I don’t know you very well, but I’m confident that something soon will annoy you. Annoying things are everywhere – obnoxious family members, slow traffic, stupid rules, pointless meetings, and at least 4 billion other things that collectively make all of us occasionally wonder why we don’t just go find an island somewhere and live in bliss all by our lonesome. In fact, you’re probably reading this specifically so you can avoid some of those annoying things right now.
And yet, the things that annoy us are usually the same things that lead to some of the best things we have.
For example, a long time ago a few people got tired of being rained on all the time. So they found a cave and slept there instead. Boom – now we have cavepeople. Flash forward a few millennia, and a different group of people got tired of having to trudge through the snow in order to go to the outhouse – so somebody came up with indoor plumbing. Fire has always been nice, but it does have the tendency to burn houses to the ground, which surveys have shown is extremely annoying. So some very smart people stared at that issue and swapped out all those rickety Franklin stoves for forced-air furnaces.
I could continue (and I will), but the point is that most innovation is the result of trying to address a current nuisance. Tired of standing on a street corner and waiting for an empty cab? Uber. Hate your morning commute? Work from home. In a weird way, the entirety of human progress can be summarized as a continual effort to transform the trillion irritations of existence into a trillion solutions.
That’s basically what the New Year’s resolution is all about. We are annoyed about something – being out of shape, spending too much time glued to our phones, never having taken that dream vacation we’ve been talking about for the past 17 years – and so we use the excuse of a new year to turn that frustration into an opportunity.
Of course, most people don’t follow through with their New Year’s resolutions, which brings up an unfortunate truth – the majority of the things that irritate us don’t ultimately result in fantastic opportunities. For example, my 8-month-old daughter has woken up three times every night for the past two and half weeks. It’s annoying. And I have yet to discover how I can capitalize on it.
I’m not saying you should enjoy the things that annoy you. By definition, that is impossible. I’m simply trying to suggest that most of our best inventions, innovations and decisions come from things that are initially frustrating. So if you’re looking to create a new product, improve the way your business operates, or upgrade your lifestyle, start by looking at the things you really dislike right now. Odds are the inspiration you’re looking for is sitting there right in front of you, bugging the crap out of you even as you read this.