The Many Benefits of Boredom
John L. McCarty
As an entrepreneur, I’m always reading about how it’s important to work on your business and not in your business. I recently discovered the value of doing the exact opposite. I wish I could say that this “A-ha” moment occurred while I was busy working on a client project or strategizing into the early morning, but I can’t. I was mopping the floor when I had my entrepreneurial epiphany.
It all started about a year ago, when I was struggling with a new technology that was quickly taking over my industry. As the owner of a lighting-manufacturing business, I knew that I had to develop a product line using new LED technology in order to stay in business. The only problem? The technology was inferior to the kind we were already using, and although there are benefits, it’s riddled with the kind of problems only an engineer would understand.
There I was, facing a dilemma: Do I embrace the new technology and spend a ton of money in retooling costs, only to offer a product I believe is inferior to what we already make? Or do I say “no thanks” and move forward with our existing offerings, potentially putting everything I worked for in jeopardy? It was a decision that would alter the direction of my business, and one that needed to be made quickly. So, I did what I typically do when I’m at a crossroads in my company. I went into my shop and started doing menial tasks. I let boredom guide me to my eventual business decision.
I began by organizing boxes. After awhile, I noticed that their placement was inhibiting the efficiency of my crew. I evaluated the production tables that held the boxes, and thought: “If only the table was a bit taller, the boxes could be reached easier.” It seemed so simple. So, I went to a store, purchased 3,000 pounds of steel and began welding new tables. Upon completing them, I painted each one bright red. In the process, I ruined most of my clothes and covered the shop in overspray. I spent the next few days mopping the floor with paint stripper. That’s when I found my big solution.
As I mopped and mulled over ideas, I caught myself thinking about the problems that would likely occur if I didn’t embrace the LED technology. Then it hit me: Why not just make it? Why not create a light fixture that addresses all of the technology issues, while still highlighting the benefits of the product? It wouldn’t be cheap to make by any means. Heck, it probably wouldn’t even be affordable … but at least it would be the best, and if nothing else, it would make my existing products look inexpensive by comparison. In that moment—mid-mop—boredom came through for me once again.
Over the years, I’ve made it a point to schedule boredom into my busy work week. When my staff leaves for the day and I’m alone to be with my thoughts, I turn on the stereo, change into grubby clothes and go to work doing something trivial. This approach to ideation has resulted in unconventional strategies for growth, the acquisition of our new manufacturing facility and improved efficiencies in the production of our products. When I look back at my better business moments, I can always point to something small I was doing prior that attributed to the creation of something bigger and better.
As a business owner, I’ve always done things differently. It’s a direct result of these small moments of clarity that arrive in such an unconventional manner. The menial tasks permit my mind to go to places it just can’t during the normal hours of the day. And it works. Today, one year after my mopping moment, I’m looking at the independent test results of our new LED product line. They crush anything that has ever been made to date. It’s a real game-changer for the industry, and I owe it all to working in my business and not just on my business.
John L. McCarty is the founder of LUX Dynamics, an energy- efficient lighting manufacturer focused on becoming the “Ferrari” of the lighting industry. Fun fact: Not only does John enjoy blacksmithing, but he also has been known to sew his own clothing and fashion them at Burning Man. Contact John at