One of my employees told me about finding herself in the vitamin aisle at Target recently, where she discovered a new brand amid all the Nature's This and Multi That. The packaging was unlike the other bottles on the shelf: creative, friendly, inviting, square instead of round.

It was so different that she went home and Googled the name: Olly. Turns out it had been started by a guy who'd previously launched a cleaning-products company, Method, which set itself apart by putting healthiness, eco-friendliness, and cheerfulness next to cleanliness. On the heels of Method's success, the guy went in search of another, similarly mundane product line to shake up. He found it in the vitamin aisle.

And that, boys and girls, is how you do it.

I've given a lot of talks to high school kids and even younger who dream of striking it rich with the next lifestyle-changing, multibillion-dollar idea. Sometimes, my pearls of business wisdom, nurtured over decades of experiences good and bad, are not received with the kind of head-nodding, rapturous appreciation I believe they deserve. I can tell they're thinking, "This dude is sooo boring."

They want to hear me say they can be the next Mark Zuckerberg, but I can't. What I can do is tell them that boring is where it's at--so to speak.

At Big Ass Solutions, we've created a business in a relatively short time that employs more than 1,000 people. We did it not by developing something that's entirely new, despite what our marketing team might say. We did it by finding things that already existed and making them a lot better, things that had existed so long in the same basic form that they'd become the status quo--commodities, essentially. Boring things, like fans and lights--and HVAC, a new area we're working to improve upon. (Honestly, it's hard to think of anything that sounds more boring than "HVAC," unless it's HVLS, the original name of our company before we wised up.)

So I tell kids what they don't want to hear: that the likelihood of any of them inventing the next great thing and amassing wealth equal to the larger of the two Congos is pretty slim. It's a real buzzkill, I know, but those who are listening probably don't believe me anyway. I also tell them they do have a real shot at finding success if they look at the everyday products, processes, and services that surround them with a critical eye. Are they merely adequate? How could they be improved? Remember, when people talk about "as-is condition," what they really mean is "needs work."

The status quo can always use a shakeup. Cleaning agents don't have to smell strong, vitamins don't need drab, round bottles, and ceiling fans don't have to wobble and hum. The incandescent bulb was great in its day, but now there are sturdy lights that can respond to a person's mood as well as the light outside, and they'll last for years.

Take it from me, kids--that's pretty darn cool.

Published on: Sep 9, 2016