Get Pissed Off, and Then Make Something
Let’s begin with rain gutters. Specifically, K-style gutters. The kind that are almost certainly on your house. They are, in fact, the very worst example of product design in the history of product design. Worse than hydrogen-filled zeppelins, bitcoin, Friendster, or the 37 different dongles you need to plug something into an iPhone. K-gutters are just cheap enough and good enough at their job to avoid redesign and improvement and just bad enough to murder you while you’re standing on a ladder cleaning them out one Saturday morning in autumn. Neglect them, and mold-inducing torrents will fill your walls and basements and potentially sicken your family and dinner guests. Yet miles of the things are still being installed to this very day because no one is angry enough at them to make something better.
One person could save us from this awful design. The one brave thinker who has had enough. The one person who has a clarity of vision, who can articulate the injustices in the world, and who possesses the talent to free us of them.
The one who is simply pissed off.
Don’t get me wrong — an attitude of optimism can be a great thing. Armed with one, you can move mountains or inspire/cajole others to move them for you. But the problem arises when positivity turns to complacency. When you stop asking yourself, “WTF?!”
I always tell any innovator who is willing to listen to cherish both the better angels of our nature and the bitter ones. You must call out injustice to right injustice. You must mock the stupid, parody the powerful, question the questionably unquestionable, and slay the evil Quos of Status.
Because nobody invents the iPhone if a Treo doesn’t piss them off.
Nobody invents the Tesla if a Buick doesn’t piss them off.
Nobody invents Netflix if Netflix-with-physical-discs-you-have-to-mail doesn’t piss them off.
I tell young creative people to note their everyday gripes, collect hourly grievances, fill their hearts with anger at even the tiniest of mediocrities, thusly asking:
Why do drive-through speakers suck?
Why do new shoes inevitably tear holes in my heels for the first week?
Why aren’t packets of bacon resealable?
Why don’t elevator buttons have an “undo”?
Why are car tires literally designed to deflate and strand you in Pasadena?
Why does my phone insist on autocorrecting to the wrong form of “it’s”?
My point is, in more than one of these angry questions may be hiding a profitable improvement. A heroic solution and its enviably funded startup. Who knows?
Steve Jobs wouldn’t have launched the iPod if he hadn’t loathed the interface of the Nomad MP3 player. Jack Conte wouldn’t have started Patreon if he hadn’t gotten fed up with the way platforms like YouTube and Facebook paid its creators. James Dyson wouldn’t have built a superior vacuum cleaner if he hadn’t been pissed off at the dust-filled bags and diminishing suction of the vacuum cleaners in existence.
We—and by “we,” I mean you—may simply need to focus the power of pissery.
Of course, being consistently angry at objective reality is not the same as being an ambient asshole. The worst thing a group of creative people have to deal with is the one person on the team who is a constantly negative editor. Ideas in their formative stages are fragile, slippery things, and it’s easy to let vitriolic critique — even a studied, well-argued and historically supportable one — mash them to tapioca before they get their fair chance to be terrible. No one is advising that we set fire to positive processes. I’m thinking more of a controlled burn.
So be the one who shouts from a pulpit of hellfire for all to hear just how effing effed-up it is that we all have to live with this or that complete horseshit. You may be the one who saves us all.
Also, would anyone be interested in cleaning my rain gutters?