Beautiful constraints: how lockdown can inspire delight

What my son's school has taught me about storytelling during lockdown - and some ideas for how you can apply it to your business.

I went to San Diego Zoo recently. My children watched the penguins being fed and then saw a sleeping polar bear. 


How did we do this on lockdown? My son’s school runs a virtual school trip each week. From our sofa we travel the world and explore places they haven’t been before. It’s been delightful, unexpected, and wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been forced to be away from the classroom and unable to travel.

A screenshot of penguins at San Diego Zoo
A screenshot of penguins at San Diego Zoo

Eh? How does a virtual school trip work?

(And what’s it got to do with business storytelling?)

We get an itinerary laid out in, what is effectively, a blog post. There’s an introduction to what we are doing and then a video where the teacher talks about where we are going and why we are going there. She reads a picture book related to our destination.


Then she gives us a link to find the place we’re going to in Google Earth. My kids love flying across the globe on Google Earth so we type the destination in the box and see where we end up. Then we put the person icon on the ground so we can explore around the outside of the building.


We’ll be given ideas for things to look at on our trip. These are resources provided by the destination. The zoo has webcams where you can watch the animals live and they had recently welcomed a baby hippo so we were encouraged to read about her.


The teacher then provides some ideas for activities you can do. This might be taking inspiration from something we’ve seen and creating our own version, or doing something on the destination’s website. For example, this week we went to Tate Britain which has a game where you can make your own masterpiece. We’d also been introduced to The Shape Game by Anthony Browne and we could play that together.

The artwork my kids made using Tate Paint
The artwork my kids made using Tate Paint

What’s this got to do with business storytelling?

Taking part in these activities got me thinking about how we can get people involved in our businesses during lockdown. 


I believe it’s really important for businesses to remain visible right now and even if you can’t welcome people through the door, you can still give them an experience.


You can:

  • Take people behind the scenes
  • Showcase your products and services
  • Show people how to make use of your products
  • Inspire people to get involved


For example, Thirsty sells wine and beer and has a bar in Cambridge. It teams up with food vans to create a variety of dining in options through the week. They also host events. Lockdown is obviously not ideal but that hasn’t stopped the owner, Sam Owens, from continuing to show up for his customers and sell them great wine and beer.


He shares news of what stock he has in and how people can get their hands on it.

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A new week. And more new booze. Had a massive delivery of beer and vino this morning. Old faves like Bee-Side Grenache and Lanave Rioja, along with loads of great value stuff between £8-12, more 5-litre bag-in-boxes (=6.66 bottles worth) and a few funky monkeys (skin-contact, low sulphite, etc). It's all going online this afternoon. . Beerwise, a pallet arrived from Bristol, laden with @drinkmoorbeer @lostandgroundedbrewers @arbor.ales, followed by a wodge of stuff from @durationbeer in Norfolk. We're expecting @burntmillbrewery in later today, with @trackbrewingco @wylam_brewery tomorrow. Should keep you going for a few hours... . In other news, we're upping our delivery rounds. We're going to try delivering every afternoon inside our Cambridge 6-mile zone from Tue to Sat, starting tomorrow. Get orders in before 10am and you should receive your grog that very same day (touch wood). If you're outside that zone, we're launching weekly deliveries to the south on Wed (covering Royston around to Saffron Walden and as far as Haverhill), to the west/northwest on Thu (covering the A14/A428 corridors) and to the north/east on Fri (covering Ely around to Newmarket). There's a slightly higher min order value (£50) to those spots to qualify for free delivery. If that's you, we'd love you forever if you could share news of our service to mates and neighbours. Got a village Facebook group or similar? Perfect - pls stick a link to our site on there. I'll update the Deliveries page on the website this afternoon to give more detail. . Thanks again, gang. And please spread the word. Cheers, Sam . #thirstycambridge

A post shared by Thirsty Cambridge 🇪🇺 (@thirstycamb) on

You can also break down part of your process and show how you go about it. Krishna Solanki builds websites and she recently shared this post about a new customer and the moodboard she had created for them.

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🎉 NEW PROJECT ALERT 🎉 . This is by far one of my most favourite FAVOURITE moodboards to date and it’s for the @happycoms rebrand and website redesign project that we are collaborating on. . 💛 Kelly Morel is the founder of Happy Communications - PR & Comms for those leaving a positive footprint on the world. I first met Kelly via Instagram. We instantly connected over our experiences of “climbing the career ladder” after having children. Since then we’ve worked together on a few projects and the end result has always been fantastic….I‘m super excited to be working on Kellys redesign and am over the moon she trusts me with her business vision and goals! . 🌟 This moodboard is first visual step in creating the vision for the rest of the project. A lot more work has already gone on behind the scenes and I can tell you now…this is going to be a project to keep your eyes 👀 on! . 💌 I love creating unique brand identities, as well as award winning Squarespace websites, so if you’re ready to take that step to create a new/refreshed brand or website for your business, then do get in touch!.. I’m taking bookings now for end of June! . Head to @krishnasolankidesigns or send me a DM to get the ball rolling for a “no strings attached” chat…. Meant in a non-sleezy way! 😂… . What do you think of this moodboard? I’d love to know... 👇🏽😊

A post shared by Brand + Squarespace Designer (@krishnasolankidesigns) on

How beautiful constraints create opportunities

Adam Morgan and Mark Barden wrote a book called A Beautiful Constraint about how to make use of our limitations. For instance, you might not be able to manufacture something, or you can only deliver within a 3 mile radius. If you think about it, our businesses are constrained by all sorts of circumstances and these help shape what we deliver to our customers.


These constraints can inspire innovation. Have you developed an online course due to the impact of coronavirus on your business? Or are you delivering your services using video conferencing?


One of our school trips was to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and it has created a range of materials for people to be able to enjoy the works from home including:
Colouring pages
Primary and secondary school lessons
Stories about Van Gogh’s life and work
Collection highlights
Answers to questions

Think around your business and create helpful content

You might think that sounds complicated but all they have done is think about what people are interested in and created ways to serve them.


You can do this too – and the only equipment you need is your smartphone.

  • Take photos of your products
  • Record videos about your products
  • Show people your process. Walk them through how you create a mood board, design a new item, or work through a project.
  • Run a challenge – and use it to build your email list. Could you help people achieve a quick win which shows them the benefit of working with you, or gets them ready to work with you?
  • Set a project – help people create something themselves with step by step instructions. You can teach them with a series of videos, and if you sell the products they need to make the item, link to your web shop.
  • Create a club or a Facebook group where people can talk about their love of what you do. Whether you help people with gardening, books, pottery, or coding, we crave community and a place where we can talk to people who are enthusiastic about the same topics.


Don’t forget that your customers are subject to beautiful constraints as well. They can’t shop and carry out activities in the same way as before. Their outlook may have changed. 


Heather McDougall is a garden designer. She realised people were spending more time in their gardens, were enjoying watching their local wildlife, and could do with projects they could manage on their own. She created a series of tips on wildlife gardening. 

What can you create that tells stories about your business and ties in with your customers’ stories so you can remain in the forefront of their minds?

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How lockdown can inspire delight
How lockdown can inspire delight
Picture of Rachel Extance

Rachel Extance

Award-winning journalist and blogger. I help service-based business owners communicate who they are, what they do, and why. If you struggle to talk about yourself on your website or your content marketing, get in touch with me.

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One Response

  1. Hey Rachel, This is a such a great article. I loved hearing of the ingenuity of your son’s teacher creating such a great learning experience for the children in this remote learning environment. You also provided such great examples of how we could use this idea to create great experiences and tell great stories in our own business. You have definitely sparked my ideas of things I can do.
    A Beautiful Constraint is one of the best books I ever read, it certainly helped shift the way I look at things.

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