Category Archives: Business + Entrepreneurship

The beauty in complaining

My head buzzes when I am around people who start to complain too much. It's like an electric current goes through my head, starts building, and then my frazzled mind-space begins to implode under all of the pressure.

I like solving problems, and can be known to interrupt or interject with "Yeah, sure, okay, but — how do we fix this?" instead of patiently listening.

{I'm working on it. I'm a much better listener than I was five years ago.}

The worst is when complaints run in a continuous loop, as though their very existence begets more opportunities to begrudge the same thing over and over again. I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. Someone who complains about the same thing over and over again, and yet does nothing to fix or change the situation.

But complaints aren't always bad.

Complaints are valuable — the first time.

If we can ignore the tinny-tin-tin buzz chattering complainers (I sometimes picture those world cup Vuvuzuelas as the pinnacle of a swarm of complainers, buzzy bees dancing around my ears doing nothing for nobody) then we can try to hear the music in the buzz. I like to think it has something to tell me — or you:

Every complaint is an opportunity.

Even the gripers have their merits: a gripe is feedback, a reflection on the world, information for a product or a process — and it can be something that reveals a way in which our environments can be different, changed, or better.

If the complaint stops at just that — a vocal expression of disapproval or — well, then it doesn't do much good. That's just whining.

And if a complaint happens more than once, it's time to act.

Sometimes I find myself repeating the same complaint in my head. If I hear myself say it more than once, though, I try to immediately think: What can I do about this?

A complaint is the first key towards solving a problem. The easiest problems to solve are ones we can readily identify.

A great way to solve problems is to look around and see that they exist. So the next time you hear someone complain, look again at what's being said.

Complaining about late buses? Then figure out a system for notifying riders of the bus schedule and arrival times. Complaining that banks aren't open on Sundays? Figure out a way to do banking on Sundays without going into a teller. Want to stop getting parking tickets? Make a map of the cities' street signs and rig it to your iPhone alarm clock. Complaining that you can't find things? Figure out a better way to stay organized.

Annoyed that telephones are stuck into wires in walls and you have to stand in one place to talk to someone? Oh snap, invent a cell phone.

Businesses solve problems.

People make stuff to fix problems you have — sometimes before you knew you had a problem in the first place — and it's in order to make your life a little bit better.

Often, the opportunities require work, effort, or time (hence the complaint) but they are certainly opportunities. They should challenge us to figure out how to do something better and figure out new solutions.

Often, it's just a small thing that can be fixed or tweaked to make something much better. Hipmunk gives Kayak a run for it's money on finding cheap airline flights. HootSuite, TweetDeck, BufferApp, and Meet Edgar are all variations on the same problem: coordinating social posts and sharing your work in the social world.

Making something slightly better or easier to use can be a huge opportunity.

Complaints should happen once.

Then they should spur you to action. Complain. Then think: How can I fix this?

The brightest people in the world — and the basis for many, many business ideas — comes from a simple look at something that doesn't *quite* work so well and coming up with a way to make it better. A greater challenge, of course, is to create a solution for a problem people didn't know they had: Apple's iPod, for example, solved a problem that many people didn't realize they had in the first place: the ability to carry an indefinite amount of music around with you in your pocket.

Many of the best businesses, in fact, understand a problem or an opportunity and then fix it before you even knew it existed.

An amazing example of this will come from Google's Cars, if the cars end up working very well (which I hope they do): the problem? People don't like driving, or at least they don't like driving on a regular basis, when the drive is the same day-to-day and they could be using that time (often 1-2 hours in traffic each way) for something else. Clearly, the public transportation systems and the way that they are run leave something to be desired in all of us — otherwise, we wouldn't have so many cars cramming into our cities and spaces. People prefer being in their own cars, under their own terms. Even when it's ridiculously expensive to own a car. I look forward to the solutions that stem from the opportunities of car sharing, private rides, and better public transportation.

If you're complaining about the same thing over and over again and you already know how to fix it, or you have an idea of how it could be better, then it's time to start working on it.

And if you've never thought about it this way before: every time you see something you don't like, from trash on the subway to long lines to confusing information, realize that it's probably a business waiting to happen, and it could be yours.

Listen to what other people are complaining about as free advice for what might be a great business opportunity.

What are people complaining about? What are you complaining about? How are you going to fix it?

Bam. There's your next business idea.

Go make something better.

Ship. Iterate. Improve. Repeat.

How do you make something great? Start small. Build something that you can do today, this week. Ship a little piece of it. Stop holding on to it. Maybe keep the idea big, but just start with something so small you can’t not do it. Make the smallest version possible. Give it away. Share it. SellContinue Reading

What to do about negative feedback.

Are you hungry enough? So I’m at home on a Saturday night, and I’m watching America’s Next Top Model, one of my guilty pleasures and trashy TV shows that I sometimes tune into (it’s that, Project Runway, and Suits that make me curl up with a bowl of popcorn after a long day). While you can holdContinue Reading

Does money make you crazy? The Money Toolbox: leave debt behind, build your savings, and grow your wealth.

Want money? Money advice often boils down to some basic tenets: spend less than you make, or conversely, make more than you spend. Increase your earnings, then maximize your returns. Sounds simple—in theory. But the difficulty lies in the application. How do you actually do it so that it changes? What do you do whenContinue Reading

The Write Life’s bundle: massive sale for writers!

Writing is powerful stuff. I teach several writing courses as a tool to gain insight into your inner wisdom, access your inner soul, and pen your own stories. If you’ve been itching to write, yesterday I shared several of my favorite resources in the March edition of my behind-the-scenes newsletter. Today, I’m excited to share aContinue Reading

Are you letting the numbers deflate you?

The thing about numbers is, we give them far too much power to make us feel bad. “Only” have 100 people reading your blog? That’s like speaking to a jam-packed coffee shop or on stage at a live speaking event. Alexandra Franzen reframes the expectations we have around blogging (and online writing) and I thinkContinue Reading

Making money as a creative entrepreneur: how I make money, where I spend my time, and what I’ve learned from launching my own ventures.

When I was four weeks old, my mother and father took our then-family-of-four from Germany to Idaho Falls, little baby and tiny toddler in tow. We were standing around in the living room, as my mother recalls (to be be fair, I can’t recall and I certainly wasn’t standing—more likely drooling), talking about the insaneContinue Reading

Are you itching and ready for change? So many beautiful ways to start the new year. Here are a few programs and classes I love.

I have a confession to make. I signed up for three courses this January, and I’ve got so many notebooks and pens and pencils out that I’m doing geeky little dances around my apartment, although my apartment keeps getting messier and messier. Magazines, scissors, glue, crafts? Check. Class on financial awareness and making money as aContinue Reading

Building a space and a voice on the internet: is it time for you to join in?

Where are you telling your stories? This past Monday we kicked off the first Writer’s Workshop with a group of 22 participants from more than a dozen states and countries around the world. I’m so impressed and inspired by the talent and hard work coming from the group already—and we’re just in week one! WritingContinue Reading

Radio Interview: Musings on Design, Environment, Behavior and Sustainability

How do you build a sustainable life, what does psychology have to do with cities, and how do you wield the power of learning how to say both yes and no strategically? Did you design your own job? How do you balance a full-time job with all the side projects you want to do? What happensContinue Reading