unbounded pursuit

September 2020 

In pursuing an occupation (what startup should you start, or what career path should you pursue), the bounds of your problem statements have a disproportionate impact on how much joy you may derive from its pursuit — something most of us are unable to imagine at the outset. This lack of being able to imagine outcomes is similar to human inability to comprehend the basics of compound interest when it comes to finances. 

To put in simple terms, bounded problem statements have finite outcomes; whereas unbounded problem statements *can* have infinite outcomes. Unbounded problem statements are often also misunderstood to be incorrectly framed questions, of “infeasible” ones — something you often hear when builders project a future state of the world that seems “impossible”. 

Interestingly, bounded versus unbounded problem statements have been studied extensively by mathematicians and physicists. More here.

What separates unbounded problem statements from bounded ones is how constraints (or boundaries) are defined — and these boundaries are where infinite optimisation becomes feasible or infeasible. 

“A linear programming problem is said to have unbounded solution if its solution can be made infinitely large without violating any of its constraints in the problem”

more here

Unbounded problem statements (for startups) are often fraught with greater uncertainty, longer time horizons (often lasting decades), and a wider scope. Thats what makes them more exciting, and perhaps more worthy of pursuit — not just for the sake of outcomes, but also for the sake of adventure. 

Google’s ambition of “organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible” is one example of an unbounded problem statement, and Bloomberg has a well defined problem statement as well “unleash the power of information and technology to organize, understand, and improve our world”

As you think about your own pursuits, ask this question – and I hope you find more interesting & worthy answers.

I sure am. 

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