Let me explain.
In the 20th century, the unmentioned secret of building a great business - one known to every tycoon, beloved of every beancounter, but almost never talked about, always kept hush-hush - was this: "keep it boring. As boring as possible - and then, make it even more boring". The best businesses of the 20th century were all mostly boring businesses. Paper? Check. Plastics? Check. Fast-food? Check. "Apparel"? Check? Banking? Mega-check. And the great entrepreneurs behind them knew: in an industrial age, the more boring it was, the less risky, costly, difficult, and uncertain "scaling" it up to vast heights would be.
Boringness was an inevitable outcome, when you think about it. Because building a great business in the 20th century - maximizing profitability - was about standardization, homogenization, control, predictability. Hence, boringness: the ability to churn out a billion widgets slightly faster, cheaper, and dumber than the guys at the other end of the industrial park.
And so, the endgame: it was boringifying a business that made a good business great. You know the score: keep it middle of the road, passionless, bloodless, compromise, horse-trade, find the lowest common denominator, make sure it doesn't offend anyone, please everyone just a little sliver of a little bit (and never mind about not really delighting anyone not one bit. Cars used to be really, really interesting - until Detroit realized that a simpler, easier path to profit was boringifying the living daylights out of them, with the well-worn toolkit of control, standardization, and homogenization. And ever since then, we've been driving around in dull, drab cars that not only guzzle our gas and munch on our atmosphere - they suck at our souls.
Until now. The industrial age ended a decade ago - but most of us still haven't noticed. The truth is, boringness is a lethal error today, a recipe for incompetence, irrelevance, and indifference. Apple didn't turn 5 industries (and counting) upside down by being boring. The Steve gets the power of the opposite of boringness: interestingness. You can fault Apple in many ways, but you can't say that it's not a consistently interesting company. The same is true of Google, Nike, Threadless, Tata, Timberland and nearly every other market leader under the sun today.
These aren't predictable companies chasing the humdrum, middle-of-the-road, low-brow success of yesteryear. They're not busy being boring - and then boringifying what's already stultifyingly dreary. Instead, they're doing and making stuff that challenges our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls, that inspires, provokes, and challenges. They're learning to be sometimes a tiny bit, and sometimes a huge amount, more interesting.
Hence, I'd be willing to bet: discover an outperformer, and you'll discover a company that's the opposite of boring: one that's actually interesting. So what happened to destroy the link between boringness and success? Well, at least three tectonic shifts. "Consumers" stopped having to be just that, thanks to a panoply of tools and gadgets that empower us. At the same time, boringness exploded: where once half a dozen companies offered boring cars, now, dozens do. Put both together, and you get risk that can't be tamed merely by being boring: risk that exists at a deeper substratum of the economic fabric, beyond the iron grip of even the toughest, most ruthless manager. Couple an oversupply of risky, uncertain boringness with shrinking demand for it - and the result is hypercommoditization.
So here's my tiny hypothesis. Today's great business aren't built by being boring - but by being interesting. By engaging the mind, body, heart, and soul at 10 billion percent capacity. By elevating, enlivening, inspiring, and, above all, by mattering.
Want to get radical? Try being interesting. Interesting on a human, social, emotional, spiritual, meaningful level. Make stuff, do stuff, talk stuff, live stuff, breathe stuff that challenges, provokes, infuriates, amazes, inspires, and elevates. Make stuff that feeds, nourishes, seeds, and cultivates the heart, body, mind, and soul way, way, way beyond the limits of what your rivals think is even remotely, barely possible. Do it with a passion that borders on the maniacal. Grab the help of people that are considered untouchable. Enlist the support of customers in ways that are, to your rivals, just plain unthinkable. Have a vision so awesomely world-changing, so impertinently big, so intransigently idealistic, it verges on the politically, socially, and culturally radical.
There's my challenge to you. Can you take any of the steps above? That's when you're learning to transcend the iron grip of boringness; that's when you're learning to be interesting. If you can't, well - I suppose you'd better prepare yourself for a dreary future of boringness. At least it'll probably be a short one.