Looking at pictures of vintage cars like one below, it seems like the world was once upon a time filled with much more personality then it is today. For a while, I’ve asked myself “Why were things so fun and interesting back then?”
Have we lost the fun and exciting spirit? Why does serious and sleek seem to be the only style that is produced?
The adventurous spirit has been lost, but not forgotten!
Once upon a time, here in America we were all descendants of adventurers who voyaged to the new land, a home of the brave. We weren’t scared to experiment. To stand out. To take bold leaps. Just getting here was a leap after all.
Then we made making money into a process rather than an art. What was the results of that?
The Fortune 500 seeks “efficiency” rather than excitement. Standardization, value engineering, cost reduction are all core principles of these companies. Adornments and special touches are extra costs, unscalable, and ultimately against the goal of maximum profitability.
Unfortunately, this is the recipe for boredom and that recipe now makes up 66% of the economy.
Here’s a glimpse at how boring the future can get.
Above I’ve put together how an “artificial product evolution cycle” can be constructed likely in the next 10-30 years. Having a monopoly advertising platform like Google allows a company to capture customers with advertising. They don’t have to appear on multiple different marketing channels, just one. Potential customers are taken to a commerce platform, in this case Amazon, to see their options. Using Industry 4.0 and smart factories, interconnected machinery works to build, pack, and load the products on to self-driving trucks that deliver them to the customer. The customer whether happy or mad at the product writes a review, which then gets read by software and criticisms get clumped together. Using Computer Aided Design tools along with “generative design technology” new alternatives are created to meet the associated goals derived from the customer reviews, simulated for performance, and photo-realistically rendered to be used in the updated advertising without the shopper knowing the physical good actually hasn’t been built yet. This starts the whole cycle over again, essentially forming an “artificial evolution cycle.”
While this cycle may create quantifiably better things, such as cheaper, stronger, or lighter parts, it’s not going to create this:
This is a putter made by SWAG Golf Company. It has style. It’s a limited addition. Everything they make is limited edition. It makes the person who owns it stand out. It’s fun. It’s exciting. Most putters don’t make the average person feel anything, but this one does. I don’t know if it’s the most scientifically designed putter, but I don’t care, I want it.
Evolution cycles and software don’t produce excitement. Excitement is a story, and a human characteristic.
Big companies are the ones with the cash to implement the boring “Artifical Product Evolution Cycle”.
That leaves small business to focus on fun! Focus on excitement! Focus on our desires instead of our needs!
There are 5 things needed to make this a reality:
I’m going to focus on patience here because I’ve been on a roll with that lately.
It takes time to develop whatever art you choose to pursue. Looking at that SWAG Golf putter, it’s easy to ask, “Could I do that?”
I don’t know your skillset, but “probably not” is a safe bet for most people. To make and sell that putter, understanding the golf industry, supply chains for shafts, grips, and the metal for the head is necessary. Understanding the regulations and physics governing putter design is a prerequisite. Knowing how to use a 3D CAD system, write a program for machining it on a mill, and honing your artistic craft are all part of the craftsmanship. This all takes time or connecting with people who have those skills. And you know what?
It’s worth it.
It’s fun to learn and grow and develop.
Even more fun to make products that make people smile.
I’ll share a role model here:
Frank Gehry worked 40 years as an architect before he landed his first internationally lauded building at age 68. He’s now doing work incredible work in his 90’s. This is the level of patience small business needs to have. Start small, work diligently, grow and blossom over time. Growth based on customer interest not capital.
Architects are a shining example of how I see small business, especially ones that provide the interesting and fun buildings! For the most part they are the anti-Fortune 500. They require skilled workers. They require creativity to reach the top. They require doing the work that isn’t scalable by a machine.
Without patience the interesting work will be sacrificed. Putting a skull on the putter turns off as many people as it turns on. And that’s the point! It’s fun for those who have it as a talking piece. Finding the people who love your style is part of the journey.
A small business doesn’t have the same lifecycle as a Fortune 500 company. No use in using the Fortune 500 as a role model. Here is how a Fortune 500 company tends to start:
- Have an idea
- Raise money
- Create a product or service
- Continue Raising Money
- Hire people and departments to expand with new money.
- IPO to get your stock listed on the stock exchanges.
- Repeat steps 1 through 6 with new departments and products while also acquiring other businesses and “streamlining” the company
Here is the cycle for a small business:
- Make something or provide a service
- Tell some people about it/Let some people find it
- Continue making things and honing your craft until it’s amazing work
- Do more work
- Eventually it takes on a life of its own and a company starts to form as demand exceeds the supply of the owner.
- Hire employees as needed to fulfill demand.
I found out about SWAG Golf by talking to the designer there. He said the owner was working for a major golf manufacturer as a salesperson and marketer. Eventually, he got tired/or fired, I’m not exactly sure, and he took his skillset and applied it to creating a new niche in the market. He didn’t try to compete with identical products, he differentiated his market segment. He didn’t test and test and look for the best ball roll, feel, or sound. He made a putter that made people feel something about themselves. That needs someone with a drive to lead it up. Someone to continue doing the work while waiting for it to catch on. Never faltering. Showing up day after day to create something new AND show it to people. Someone who will never say, “The skull is turning some people off, and that’s slowing our sales down, let’s take it off the putter.”
No, the skull is the whole point, without there is no business.
Let’s look to another creative. Sean Evans and his Hot Ones YouTube show.
Hot Ones started as a small interview channel on YouTube. Instead of simply asking questions, they added some drama by making every guest and the host eat increasingly hot chicken wings at regular intervals. If you’re a fan of Hot Ones, you’ve probably seen Gordon Ramsay on there. Gordon is a busy guy, filming multiple TV shows, running a restaurant empire, promoting products, etc. How does a small show on YouTube convince Gordon Ramsay to come on?
First, they make something interesting. Something that makes the world more interesting. In this case, drama is created and people watch for reactions to the spices more than questions. As a result, you’re probably not going to see celebrities reactions like this on other channels (talk about interesting), they differentiated themselves and their audience is growing as a result. Over 8 million last time I checked!
Second, I’m sure producers for Hot Ones asked multiple times, but they probably couldn’t persuade Gordon due to his time commitments. Eventually they did get him.
Gordon Ramsay mentions at the beginning of the episode that his kids said to him, “Dad, go on Hot Ones, let’s see if you can handle the hot wings.”
Hot Ones created a dramatic interview style centered around food that Gordon’s kids loved. When weighing the options of all the invites he could accept in his limited amount of available time, going with the choice that makes his kids happy is a no brainer. It wouldn’t have happened if Hot Ones stopped after 1 season.
This is how the interesting and the exciting catch on. You don’t convince everyone, not at the beginning. Imagine a spectrum with 10 points across it. The far left point is the people that get you , your ideas, and your work instantly. The far right, the people who don’t understand you at all. Convincing first 1 or 2 dots to try what you do at the start is the goal. Once they are fans, they convince the next 1 or 2 dots. And so on. Every dot here is likely 1-5 years of adoption for most new products and services. It takes patience to keep working while sticking your nose to the grindstone, waiting until you are accepted enough or liked enough to get your equivalent of Gordon Ramsay.
My own blog is something that could have easily been torpedoed by quitting too early. I started this January 1st of 2019. Up until April 30th, 2019 I had absolutely nothing. No one saw my work though I was writing and publishing a blog daily. It became easier to say well I’ve been busy at work. I’m tired. So, I started falling behind on daily blogging a little bit. I shared in a few places online when the conversation fit. Now it’s reaching a stage where I have “lift off”, the image below is growing traffic for it.
“Be patient.” Easier words to say have never been spoken. However, in the moment continuous reminders are needed. After faltering, I reminded myself that when I started, deciding on whether to continue after a decade was the goal. That’s enough time to understand if it will ever catch on or not and since I have the patience to keep working full-time while doing this, I’m not constrained to some “write or die” extremist motto. Growing daily, trying to make something that interests people a little bit more everyday is possible.
It’s likely a good thing people didn’t find me during that time too. I didn’t know as clearly what I’m trying to achieve for my audience, and it gave me time to develop ideas and writing skills. That’s something that continues to be true. It was true for Frank Gehry too. He had to develop drawing skills, language, knowledge of construction, knowledge of manufacturing technology, and figure out how to sell his visions.
This is the patience that is needed for small business to grow and make the world interesting again. Watching Shark Tank, Kevin O’Leary always says, “If it isn’t profitable in 3 years, it’s not a business, it’s a hobby.” Profitable isn’t the same as full-time, or full-fledged. Profitable can be “I spent $1000 in materials and made $2000 back.” Profitable means it’s ready to grow and scale over time
Hopefully, next year you can spend $2000 and make $4000. Then the next year double that. Then double again. Then eventually the earning will be close to your day job earnings and there will be a decision to make about going full-time. By working in that manner, anyone has an opportunity to do something interesting and find the audience who wants to buy their work.
We’re getting more bored by the day. Things need to be more interesting again.
The two cars above are proof that some companies are waking up to it, but there’s only so much big companies can do, this is a better problem for individuals and small business. If there is an interesting idea bouncing around in your head, start on it. Be patient with it. Measure it in years and decades, which you’ll want to do anyway because who doesn’t want decades of fun?
Our society is slipping into dullness can you save us?
None of this is Right is written by me, Brandon Donnelly. I believe that small business is the backbone of a healthy economy and democracy. Small business encourages competition through generosity, creativity, and skill. Small business provides more opportunity for workers to find a job that works for them. If you believe in small business, generosity, or creativity, my writings are for you.