The value of a complaint:
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. I worked in his lab, making plaster models of his patients’ teeth, developing x-rays, and making retainers. For the next four years I worked with some really great people. The experience taught me a lot about teamwork and running a small business. It was an amazing opportunity that provided many valuable lessons that have stayed with me for a lifetime.
One of those lessons was particularly sage advice that Dr. Thomas once shared with me. I have thought about it 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, pay attention to those around you. 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. And if you make helping others a priority, you will blessed with many friends and the ability to make a good living. After all, THAT’S what businesses do. They solve problems for others. So never underestimate the value of a complaint”
Now, nearly (gulp) fifty years later….
I can think of no better advice than to suggest we all train ourselves to listen earnestly for complaints. Those 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 does not work, STOP for a moment. Remember the potential value of a complaint. Then 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 its first 3 years. Over the past 20+ years, Larry has personally vetted over 1,000 product concepts and marketing strategies.
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