Everything Interesting Happens At The Boundaries





Post written by Ronald Amodeo


Some years ago I had the chance to test a new business concept for Best Buy. We set up shop in the parking lot of a Boca Raton, FL store and exchanged Best Buy gift cards for used games and electronics. The concept proved worthwhile, with 3-4 viable business models emerging, and eventually Best Buy scaled it. But what caught my attention most that day was something different.

The parking lot was very unlike the store environment. It seemed to free up how people (not customers) and staff (not employees) talked to each other. Some wild conversations happened over those few days, and our little test group quickly found itself thinking more "outside the box" than it had ever done in a conference room back at headquarters.


The parking lot was a boundary, that invisible space between the controlled world of the store and chaos outside.

Boundaries are everywhere, and innovation thrives there.


  1. Market boundaries: Pay Pal, Linden Dollars, Apple Pay, Black Market
  2. Habitat boundaries: Micro-habitats
  3. Biological eras: Massive extinction/creation events
  4. Change in political regime (or scientific theory or technology): Revolution
  5. Adjoining nations: Pigeon language


Everything interesting happens at the boundaries. Rivers are interesting, but much more is happening at the river's edge. Same with the boundary between earth and space, inside the walls of your capillaries, where the earth's crust meets the magma, the freezing-thawing point, the sound barrier, the edges of a thermodynamic system, and the small forces on the surface of a drop of water. Everything interesting happens at the boundaries, which is why startups are constantly searching there for opportunities that corporations seem reluctant to exploit. Last night I listened to ten startup pitches in Steve Case's "Rise of the Rest" competition (#RiseofRest) in Minneapolis. Everyone pitching had found a boundary from which to build a new business.

Opportunities to innovate in organizations are easy to identify when viewed through a boundary lens. They represent spaces where disagreements are happening, where needs have no solutions, where unauthorized projects spring up, where projects are failing and where change is anticipated.

Boundaries are also difficult places to survive in, just as changes in political regimes or natural cataclysms were difficult to endure. Many high potential innovations die young or just fail to stick. But as a tool for pursuing innovation, exploring boundaries in your company -- from products to processes, language, competition, technology, organizational structure, strategies, or even time -- is a fail-safe approach to thinking differently.


Some thoughts:


  1. Determine natural boundaries in your organization and create a visual. In an electronics business, one boundary is only selling new equipment.
  2. What are the opportunities at that boundary? For example, when the Selling New Equipmentboundary meets the My Old Stuff Still Works Fine boundary, what innovations can you imagine?
  3. How can you nurture those innovations?


One last bit about Best Buy: their current business model emerged from a 1981 tornado sale in a parking lot.




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