Boundaries & Constraints

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)? — 


Philosophers have the bird’s eye view

Fine – as long as they also have the worm’s eye view –

Says the crow –

As she feeds

On a worm

Rowing Regatta

WOW, I would love to be on that boat!

(She meant: skiff)

When she yelled out these words, she was standing on a bridge over the Charles River, watching the annual regatta.

Yeah, but you’d have to get up every morning at 6 am for training, replied her friend.


In Significance


The question is: Where? And how? And why? – Significance has many layers. You might be most significant in a layer that offers little praise and perceived sense of accomplishment.

Are you willing, prepared, and ready to acknowledge, accept, your significance anyway? To show up, even if it doesn’t correspond to where you’d like to be significant? How? And why?

Travel Companion

When you travel, who do you bring? Related question: Does a great life companion have to be a great travel companion? If yes, how? If no, why? Does it hinge on what he/she has to bring?

Subtraction Vacation

Vacations are supposed to be lavish, splendid, luxurious, entertaining. They are meant to give us a break from our daily routines. How about subtraction tourism (I just made this up)?

We get so used to our daily amenities, gadgetry, entertainment options, comfort that it becomes sort of ‘blah’ over time, prompting us for ‘more’. More gadgets, more entertainment, more comfort and amenities. Until ‘more’ puts us in peril. We either can’t attain more or afford more. We accept a cost that has no relation to the benefit. In a way this principle promotes behaviors that border on the insane, and are fueled by people, companies and organizations peddling ‘stuff’, including immaterial things for the ones who are saturated by material ownership – ‘enlightenment’, ‘growth’, etc. – the culture industry is huge and growing.

There are the ones who understand that a vacation could be a ‘minus’ version of our daily lives – a multi-day hike – the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, the Camino, etc.  (In German, there are not one, but two words for trails like those: Fernwanderweg, Weitwanderweg. They don’t have a corresponding word in English.)

Hiking hundreds of miles with just the bare minimum of stuff on you can give you time to reflect, to focus, to take in new views, literal and figurative.

Camping is another version of subtraction tourism, depending on what camping style you prefer. Obviously, the one I am thinking about is neither ‘glamping‘, nor ‘luxury caravaning‘ (a mini-version of your complete, sophisticated household), but rather backpacking with a mini tent. (The mere experience of forgoing practically all artificial light resets the circadian clock, a practice recommended to certain people with sleep disorders.)

Traveling light necessitates inventiveness, multi-purposing, deciding what is important. TOC applied, sort of. Which might be a great practice for our everyday lives. It doesn’t need to be camping, though.

The Grand Tour: No, not the classical one. I’m thinking EuRail, Tibet, Nepal, India, South-East Asia, hostels, huts, and modest places. This concept doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to a ‘Grand Tour’ of Less (comfort) and More (experience). Go to a B place, a C place. Discover what is there, observe, reflect on what resources you have at your disposal every day, how your life is OK and doesn’t need ‘more’, with maybe one exception: grate- and mindfulness.

(One example.)

Try a subtraction vacation: The next vacation, instead of  going to a luxury resort with all the amenities, try going to a place that does not have grand vistas or fancy accommodation. Opt for a modest B&B (rated 2 stars or below – although I was shocked to see the high quality of those on See what you can get out of the experience. Maybe try one of these travel experiments.


Deep thought
does not happen

in passing

But who
has the time?


becomes our brain food

Beautiful Water

Today at the dog park I met a mother and her 6 or 7 year-old daughter with their 7 month-old hunting dog, a real runner.

For her dog to drink, the little girl emptied all the filthy water buckets that are provided, to fill them with fresh water. Except she didn’t refer to it as ‘fresh water’. She called it ‘beautiful water’.

What a creative use of the concept of ‘beautiful’.

It made me think: Which water would I consider to be beautiful? And why?

Here are the types of water that came to my mind:

  • a murmuring brook in a forest – its lively energy
  • the clean cool water of an alpine lake in summer – the refreshing sensation when you dive in after the sun got you really heated up.
  • the Mediterranean around the Balearic Islands – it is home to Posidonia which makes the waters appear in different shades of blue, green, and turquoise
  • drip irrigation – because those droplets feed the crop
  • the water that comes out of my faucet – because it is clean, untreated, and it is there

Not necessarily in itself ‘beautiful water’, but always ‘beautifying water’:

  • a scenic lake, surrounded by mountains
  • water surrounding an island (which wouldn’t be an island if not surrounded by water) or lapping on a beach (again, a beach wouldn’t be a beach w/o water)
  • snow – a white blanket that mercifully hides the ugly and enhances the beautiful

What types of beautiful and beautifying water comes to your mind? And why?