Seth Godin’s narrative of constraints and boundaries never made sense to me and I have been mulling over their difference at times, until today I think I found a way to tease apart the concept of a boundary and a constraint.

Both are arbitrary or real. Both can be external or internal. Both are used kind of interchangeably.

Yet, here is my take on their distinction:

Boundaries are like borders (tangible or intangible) – one bumps up against them (or not).
Constraints are like chains (tangible or intangible) – one tugs at them (or not)

Example: A dog can be chained (an external, tangible constraint) or fenced in (an external, tangible boundary). If both apply, the question is such: Is the chain long enough, so that the dog can bump up against a boundary? What good does it do if said dog breaks the boundary? – It’ll still be held back by a constraining chain …

So, to expand, or break through, boundaries one needs to first and foremost make sure that there is no limiting tangible or intangible constraint.

What if there is no tangible chain, and no tangible boundary?

I’ve seen that in dogs that are kept by farmers. They set tangible boundaries (a kennel) when the dogs are puppies, to train them for an intangible constraint (which is: to not leave the farm’s premises).

So, the question can be reframed: What boundaries were set for one that successfully turned into constraints (and are anchored in a narrative)?

My take: A narrative can only change an arbitrary boundary or constraint. The very real boundaries and constraints have to be changed differently, through change management (i.e., ‘nudging/selling/campaigning’) and negotiation (which applies even to changing the asset that is oneself).

Would you agree, or are there flaws in my reasoning? If yes, what are they? Will you generously expose them by providing generous feedback?

Final question: How are you going to expand the boundary and leverage the constraint? Or, is it that the boundary is a self-imposed ‘Beautiful Constraint (Barden & Morgan)’?

And a final note, prompted by a comment:

How the terms ‘boundaries’ and ‘constraints’ are used – I quote David Ogilvy: “Give me a tight brief!” – In your opinion is this a self-imposed boundary or a self-imposed constraint?

In their book “A Beautiful Constraint” Morgan & Barden – you guessed right – describe it as a self-imposed constraint … although, a tight brief sounds more like a boundary within which a result shall be obtained.

Hence: Ogilvy consciously constrains himself with a tight boundary (to unleash maximum creativity)? —