I think you can tell a lot about a person or an organization by looking at how they deal with boundaries.

Rigid boundaries: What do you do when you hit a wall? Do you have a tantrum? Spend countless resources trying to scale the unscalable? Or do you accept reality and put your energy into something else?

No boundaries: When there’s nothing but open space, do you run? Or shrink?

Consider the American car companies. When faced with real boundaries (like the diminishing supply of oil and the high price of gasoline) they ignored them. When faced with no boundaries (like the opportunity for rapid technological advancement) they hid.

Or consider that misbehaved kid in school. He has a fit when he doesn’t get what he wants, and then spends days scheming to get it. Or that student who excels in college, takes extra courses, starts organizations and runs as fast as he can.

Microsoft has had boundary problems. The challenges of the US antitrust suit were a boundary, one that led to a huge timesink and distraction for the company. And the internet is a no-boundary zone, one that seems to intimidate them.

Sure, sometimes a boundary isn’t really a boundary. Telling them apart is a key pat of the process. But once you realize that there is (or isn’t) a boundary there, what now?