When I was fourteen years old growing up in Rolla, Missouri, my orthodontist, Dr. Royce G Thomas offered me what had to be one of the best jobs any fourteen year-old ever had: working in his lab, making plaster models of his patients, developing x-rays, and making retainers. For the next four years I worked with a great team of people and learned a lot about running a small business. It was a great opportunity that provided many valuable lessons that have stayed with me for a lifetime.
One of those lessons was sage advice that Dr. Thomas shared with me that I have thought about many times over the years and especially since launching AON Invent. Dr. “T” said, “Larry, no matter where you go or what you do in life, always give your undivided attention to anyone who is on either extreme of the emotional scale. If they are unusually happy, find out why – it may enrich your life. If they are extremely sad, you may be able to help them, which means you’ll always have plenty of friends and the ability to make a living, because THAT’S what businesses do. They solve problems.”
Now, more than forty years later, I can think of no better advice than to suggest we all train ourselves to listen earnestly for complaints – wonderful, loud, repetitive screeches of frustration that can be channeled into innovative products that improve the quality of life for all of us.
The next time you see someone getting frustrated about how something does or doesn’t work, STOP for a moment, and try to imagine a solution. If your idea involves a new consumer product, the life you change the most may be your own.
Larry is the CEO and co-founder of AON Invent. He has enjoyed a career that has spanned sales, marketing, and product innovation for companies that include subsidiaries of AMR/American Airlines, Learjet and Sam's Club. In 1995 he teamed up with Ron Loveless, the founding CEO of Sam's Club, to launch a marketing and product development firm that grossed $500 million in the first 3 years. He has personally vetted hundreds of product concepts and marketing strategies.