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Take Innovation Drive You Love

It’s surrounding graduation season, when the air is thick with sayings. One pearl of alleged intelligence routinely cast out is the guidance: “Pick a vocation you cherish and you’ll never work a day in your life.” By the force of the Internet it’s been connected to Confucius, however the old person was much more astute than that.

Above all else, a great many people – for a wide range of reasons- – don’t have that choice, and they definitely know it. Why rub their face in it? Be that as it may, far more terrible, the announcement suggests there’s something not exactly alluring about working. Actually, if your lone objective is accomplishing something you cherish, odds are you’re just taking the simple way.

If I’d gone that route, I probably would have been a history major in college. I love it, and because I do, it seems easy. Instead I majored in economics partly because the “dismal science” can be damn hard to understand. Decades later, I still want the same kind of challenge. That’s why I look forward to work every day.

It’s a curious fact that our company’s focus from the beginning has been on developing and manufacturing products that improve people’s comfort, yet one of the reasons I think we’ve been able to grow so quickly is that we stay “uncomfortable” by giving ourselves new challenges. We’re always pushing our limits and trying new things in order to understand them. That’s what led us from fans to lights to interconnected smart devices, and has us now working on HVAC systems. It’s how we’ve acquired close to 150 patents, with almost as many pending. Contrary to what some might think, we’ve found that tackling a problem despite not having years of experience in the field can actually be a benefit because we see it with a fresh set of eyes.

Rapid growth–in our case about 30 percent a year over the past six years–means that every part of the business becomes something of an engineering challenge: Will it run, can it scale, how far can we push it before it breaks. Our engineers spend much of their time testing and retesting, then interpreting the results in order to make our products better, not simply meet standards. That’s essentially our approach to everything. Let’s test this plan or structure to see if it works, and if it doesn’t, let’s try something else.

Sometimes it’s not so much a deliberate plan as an inevitable result of rapid growth. Departments expand, responsibilities change, new opportunities arise. Recently we realized that the sales approach that had worked at $30 million was proving less effective as we near $300 million, so we totally restructured our sales and marketing teams. Everything is always up for review in an effort to make it better.

Too many manufacturers stunt their growth because they’re reluctant to try new things. They don’t want to rock the dinghy out of fear of sinking, so instead they moor themselves in a safe little harbor, focus on keeping down expenses and never venture outside to explore. The way I see it, that’s about as exciting as watching water come to a boil. It’s also an easy way to plot a course straight to the bottom.