You can only solve a big problem that changes the world if you solve a problem that is deeply personal to you.
Two great examples and why they worked:
Roy Raymond was a sad pervert. He'd buy bras and panties at the department store and all the clerks thought their thoughts about him.
Roy felt embarrassed. He wasn't really a pervert. He just wanted to buy lingerie for his girlfriend.
So he solved this major problem he was having. He created a space where men could feel comfortable coming in and buying sexy lingerie for their partners. He called it Victoria's Secret.
But Roy, by solving this important personal issue for himself, apparently solved the same issue for many other men. First year sales were over $500,000 and he quickly opened up three more stores.
In 1982 he sold Victoria's Secret for one million dollars before trying multiple other businesses that ended up failing. One MILLION Dollars.
A decade later Victoria's Secret was worth over a billion dollars but Roy Raymund was nearly bankrupt and had missed the huge run-up in it's value.
Picture New York City in the late 1800s on a rainy day. It was disgusting beyond belief.
150,000 horses transported people up and down the busy streets. Each of those horses, according to Super Freakonomics, dropped down about 15-30 pounds of manure. That's up to 4.5 million pounds of manure A DAY on the streets of NYC. And now imagine it raining.
Would you cross the street?
How long could this last? How long would the city survive without being infested with crap and all the diseases brought with it. What would happen as population of both men and horses increased?
Was someone working on inventing a gigantic manure scooper? How would this problem get solved?
It never got solved.
Instead, Henry Ford invented the assembly line to mass produce cars. Every horse lost their job. People began to drive cars. Manure problem solved.
In both cases there is a common theme. Someone outside the industry solved a problem that was personal to them that then changed an industry forever.
Roy Raymund wasn't a fashion designer or a retailer. He worked in the marketing department of Vicks, which makes over the counter medications.
Henry Ford, I don't think, ever worked in the manure industry.
Instead, each person focused on a problem that was important to them. A problem that excited them at that moment in time. Raymund wanted to avoid being embarrassed in the future. Ford wanted an efficient way to make cars.
The ONLY way to change the world is to solve a problem that is important to YOU.
They had to choose themselves for success before they could save the world. Raymund had to convince himself that he didn't belong in the marketing department of a division of Procter & Gamble. He borrowed $80,000 and took the big risk of starting a business.
Ford had to survive numerous failures and bankruptcies in order to find a cheap way to make cars. He would abandon investors, people who supported him, and even companies named after him, in his quest to solve his problem in his own way.
Nobody gave them permission. And neither of them set out to change the world. They only wanted to solve a problem that was personally important to them.
It's unfortunate that often we forget that choosing ourselves is not something that happens once. It has to happen every single day.
Else we lose track of that core inside of us that solves problems and is able to share them in a way that makes the world a better place.
Ford forgot this and became obsessed with Jews. Ford is the only American that Hitler mentions in Mein Kampf: "only a single great man, Ford, [who], to [the Jews'] fury, still maintains full independence...[from] the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions."
And what happened to our embarrassed marketing manager that has ignited the passions of men and women for the past 30 years?
Roy Raymund saw the value of Victoria's Secret jump from the one million he sold it for in 1982 to over a billion dollars a decade later.
He failed in business after business. He got divorced. Then at the age of 46, my age, he drove to Golden Gate Bridge, jumped off it and killed himself.
Before you can save the world you have to save yourself.
But you have to relentlessly do it every day.
Sometimes the train wakes me up at night and I feel scared. What will the world be like for my children? I won't always be able to help them. I don't even know if I do enough to help them now.
And then I remember. I'm alive for another day.