Incredibly Boring Success

Groundbreaking inventions are super boring.

I was lying on my back watching the sky over the abandoned factories of Rochester, NY. A friend and I had decided to spend a week brainstorming ideas that would transform the world and make us rich. No client work, only brainstorming — full time… for a week. It was Friday and our exhaustion seemed to make our lying belly-up all the more appropriate.

Back at the office our whiteboard had a plan for dethroning DeBeers. We would build a diamond exchange to democratize the insular and monopolistic industry. We had insider knowledge, done research, and leveled a sound approach. We knew the risks and the way we’d make it big. We’d drawn an exciting business plan.

Nothing happened with any of it.

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Looking back the problem is clear. We were chasing ideas to build opportunities. We should have been chasing opportunities to uncover great ideas. The difference is crucial.

Ideas that appear outside of nurturing circumstances have little chance of survival.

Later on, my company won a contract to build a global marketing platform. The concept was simple: build a digital alternative for shipping hard drives around the globe. In fact, it was so boring it seemed sacrilegious whenever someone uncapped a color marker to plan. Still, we found aspects of the project that were exciting and diligently mapped out the MVP. From there the momentum picked up. Within a few months, we’d moved to more complex features that were exciting entire teams. The boring MVP had created a safe environment for innovation. Boring became an opportunity to discover great. This second iteration of work won a patent and today is making or saving a lot of people a lot of money.

Back in Rochester we’d started our exercise with an underlying (and often repeated) mistake. We believed that coming up with The Next Big Thing will unfurl a bright gold slip ‘n slide to success. This isn’t true of course but it’s an idea perpetuated by a seemingly constant stream of oversimplified success stories. Hollywood stories of million-dollar ideas distilled into 30 seconds of cut scenes.

These stories are half-truths which makes them attractive. The success is true: facebook launched in a dorm room. AirBnB funded with Obama O’s… Yadda yadda. The success part might be true but the leftover impression of easy success is not.

Sure, writing about going to work on a rainy day and getting nothing done isn’t the stuff of legend. But these days, when I hear about easy, flashy success I always remind myself… For all those amazing flashy moments there was a slog of a boring road.

Mark Ovaska is an entrepreneur and journalist living in Brooklyn, NY.

Image © Copyright 2018, Mark Ovaska

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Serial entrepreneur and photojournalist. Husband, father, global citizen.

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