This month's issue: Developing Boundary Rules.
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Simple. Powerful. Elegant.

A Newsletter from Creative Ventures

Issue #130

Big News

Nothing like hitting the ground running!
There are so many things going on already and our calendar is filling faster than an empty glass at an Irish pub.  Here are a few highlights:
  • The potential cover of the new book.
  • Our first series of products, a full set of all of our Elegant Simplicity forms and our original Once Upon a Time story notebook, will be available in 2017.
  • We signed the largest project in the 31-year history of Creative Ventures, and it has us so excited to get started!
  • Colin is taking over the full operation of Creative Ventures, and if we had titles, his would be the Chief Operating Officer.
  • A new level of commitment to our blog is generating a ton of website visits.
  • Our newsletter made Daniel Pink’s ( top newsletter list, which has created a daily flow of new subscribers. Here is a link to the whole list.
  • And of course, a constant journey to the airport!

The 2016 Top 10 and Bottom 5 Movie List is ready.  If you want a copy, simply send either Colin or me a note at or

Here is the latest Over Coffee Video.  How do you keep track of your ideas? 


The Idea




"If something happens, it must have a way of happening. " 

- John Verdon

Do you ever wonder how very stressful complex situations can be rendered doable? 
Take triage for instance.  Triage is the process used by medical personnel to prioritize patients in an emergency situation based on the urgency of patients’ required treatment.  One of the greatest TV shows in history was MASH, about a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War (did I really have to provide that description?), where surgeons dealt with the wounded rushed by helicopter to their unit for treatment.  The fictional doctors would quickly define their scope of work based on a very rapid overview of the patients.  The chaos and complexity of the task were rendered doable through the use of labels using a series of very simple but critical rules:
  • Green:  Minor injuries, the walking wounded.  They could wait.
  • Yellow:  Injured, but not life-threatening.  Delay treatment, but only for a little while.
  • Red:  Life-threatening.  Treat IMMEDIATELY.
  • Black:  Dead.
These types of guidelines are called BOUNDARY RULES and are at the heart of the idea that simplicity can elevate the outcome of the most complex issues and processes to something doable. 

Professor M. Pollan at the University of California used the idea of boundary rules to simplify the idea of nutrition and dieting:
  • Eat real food
  • Not too much
  • Mostly plants
Climbing Mt Everest?  There’s a boundary rule:  not at the summit by 2:00 p.m., TURN AROUND!  Violation of this rule resulted in the horrors and deaths featured in the book Into Thin Air by John Krakauer.   Even burglars have boundary rules when looking for houses to break into:  car in the driveway, pass it by.
Boundary rules are “rules of thumb” specifically designed to reach a desired outcome quickly, in environments of rapidly-changing conditions.  They are well thought-out guidelines, simple enough to both have impact and be understood by a large number of people expected to benefit from them. 
The great physicist Richard Feynman had simple boundary rules to make sure a person/student understood a subject:
  • Pick a subject and start to study it.  Begin with the simplest explanations you can find.
  • Once you have a basic understanding, pretend to teach it to a group of people.
  • When you get stuck, go backwards to the materials you started your study with.
  • Simplify at every opportunity through story and analogies.
In our Elegant Simplicity strategic platform we teach the development of these types of rules and how they can be applied to the systems and processes you deal with.  Boundary rules deal with the way things happen and create a method for people to take reasonable action.  They are tools to reduce the complex to a series of simple actions. If you want to learn more about boundary rules check out a great book called Simple Rules by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt.
Here are the three starting places to begin working on your boundary rules:



Do This!

KNOW THE GOALS - KNOW THE SYSTEM: The development of boundary rules is about knowledge of the system you want to simplify and knowing the goal of your desired outcome.  That makes sense.  You can’t create a simplified series of rules if you don’t understand the system you want to apply them to, and they will prove disastrous if you don’t know your desired outcome.  Maybe you are looking to simplify accounts payable, or a screening of potential clients, or your sales process.  Start with a very simple outline of the system and the goals you are looking for.  That’s the foundation of developing boundary rules.

WHAT THE HELL IS THE REAL PROBLEM?: Once you’ve outlined the system and the objectives, the next step is to define the problem.  What will these simplified rules be applied to?  You have to know the problem to design the boundary rule solution.  You have to be precise and tight.  The broader the problem, the less impactful boundary rules are.  Maybe your problem is the expense of marketing.  Your boundary rule might be to first look to developing creative ideas for free delivery, such as electronically-delivered concepts like videos via the internet.  If you discover a fertile market for your product or services, your boundary rule might be to define the characteristics of that market and start your new client search using only those specific guidelines.   

THE WHOLE IDEA IS ABOUT SIMPLE: The thing about complex issues is they’re like gravity, they tend to draw complex solutions.  This is about the opposite.  Boundary rules have to be elegantly simple.  The simpler the better. The more specific the better.  The simpler the rule, the easier it is to understand.  The easier it is to understand the more universal its application can be.  More people will get it.   You want the boundary rule to be used.  Getting ready to become the next start-up superstar?  Set boundary rules like:  “Don’t mix personal and business expenses.”  “Pay yourself a salary.”  At DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), where scientists and engineers work on emerging technology for the Defense Department, there are two simple boundary rules:  the idea must further the quest for fundamental scientific understanding, and it must have a practical use.  These two simple boundary rules allow them to rapidly tell if a very complex idea has value for their work.




HATE MOVING? SO DO WE: When it comes to moving there are two groups of people, the do-it-yourself movers (Yes, I’ll help you move for pizza and beer, sigh.) and the moving company group. What’s not surprising is that the do-it-yourselfers would happily pay for movers if only it were more economical. Enter Moved, a Brooklyn-based start-up using technology to shake up the $17 billion moving industry. This mobile app with concierge services that will not only help you move but will help you sell unwanted furniture, order boxes, and donate goods to name a few, is toting a low price tag of $400 for a two-bedroom same-city move. This might not be for everyone (big out of state moves might want to search for a commercial option), but for migratory millennials, who accounted for 43% of moves from 2007-2012, this is something you might want to check out.

MMMM... FREE COFFEE: Give it away for free. That might not be the strategy you’re looking toward to wrap up 2016 and kick off 2017, but Howard Schultz thinks it’s a great idea. From December 23-January 2 Starbucks is giving away tall espresso drinks at 1000 locations. This is just another way for Starbucks to give back this season and drive even more customer loyalty than they already have. See what stores in your area are participating here.

THE GIFT CARD DILEMMA: Didn’t know what to get a loved one or friend this holiday season? You may have defaulted to the always safe and somewhat impersonal gift card. But with all of the different types of gift cards out there, you may fear you’ve given the equivalent of home-made socks to someone. Plus, nearly $1 billion in gift cards went unused in 2015. No need to worry. With companies like Cardpool and CardCash, recipients of undesired vendor cards are no longer forced to make purchases at stores that have little interest to them. These two companies will buy your gift card for 92% of its value and then flip them on the open market for a discount. If you’re looking to get cash out of your gift cards this year or get some great deals on purchasing gift cards in the years to come, you can check them out.

Pretty cool stuff ...

"Your two day session; Journeys in Leadership, was the highlight of our entire conference! You invigorated our members with your message about the impact of strong leadership. You kept the room full to capacity on two beautiful Kapalua days, which is the best endorsement anyone can give you!"

National Association of Professional Employer Organizations


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