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November 11, 2013

How Boredom Can Impede Growth

Posted by Soundararajan S (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:53 AM

Boredom, The Real Secret Behind Innovation [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFe4aPewV9c]

I continue to find a common thread running through the stories of the world's greatest entrepreneurs. Why is it that nearly every one of them has had a bout with boredom? That's the one trait you wouldn't associate with men and women who build companies from scratch, fend off competitors, and bring amazing products and services to market. How could classic Type A personalities bent on conquering a certain sector or industry experience boredom?

Many management gurus agree that boredom is a recurring problem among business leaders who are always trying to find their next business challenge. What I find fascinating is that most entrepreneurs become familiar with a new market and, just as they're about to blaze a new trail, decide to pull back for a while.

A friend of mine once shared with me the trials and tribulations of building a precision tools business. He operates in a very specialized sector. Large industrial companies rely on precision tool shops to do jobs like stamping or forming metal using a host of sophisticated techniques. My friend's company specializes in molding metal parts for automobiles by using water. The water is injected into a mold at such high pressure that the metal shapes itself into a specified form. For years my friend stayed on top of the latest technology and positioned his company as a supplier to some of the world's largest automakers. He was on the verge of expanding the company to other continents in order to fulfill growing demand from overseas markets. But then a curious thing happened: He got bored. His corporate officers and the board of directors were fairly confounded by his abrupt decision to hold off on an ambitious international expansion.

In hindsight, he can rattle off a number of lessons that he learned from the experience. But at the time, his lack of interest in the project did not make him many friends in the company.

It turns out that boredom is a form of burnout. It's one of several ways the mind tells executives who are otherwise driven and enthusiastic that they might be taking on too much at one time. In my friend's case, he had planned the international expansion to coincide with the introduction of new business lines as well as a sales campaign to push next-generation versions of the firm's stamping technology. When it came time to immerse himself into the 16-hour days that he would need to oversee the expansion, he recoiled from the task.

Now here's the good news. Because of hindsight he will tell you that this speed bump in his career served as a period during which he could develop more self-awareness. He was also able to step back and assess his relationship with his colleagues and where they fit in as the company began to change direction and meet with high levels of success. By focusing on only the most important activities in his company, he was able to make more of an impact. At the same time, the colleagues that picked up the extra work that he shed were able to bring themselves up on the learning curve.

Because he's a CEO, he's in a uniquely powerful position to help others in his organization who might feel overstretched and fatigued. He now serves as a mentor to up-and-coming executives whose jobs are to keep on innovating. Being charged with making significant (and frequent) market disruptions can take its toll on even the most driven and resilient among us.

Another way of looking at on-the-job boredom is that it's a sign that you should refine your innovation journey. Maybe your self-awareness isn't the problem so much as the direction your team is taking on a project. The onset of boredom might just be the ultimate red flag your team needs to retool itself and chart a new course on its innovation journey.

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