Where Game-Changing Ideas Come From

How to do things the way nobody else does.

Welcome to One Thing Better. Each week, the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine (that's me) shares one way to be more successful and satisfied — and build a career or company you love.

If you like this newsletter, please share it with others!

Today’s one thing: Using the stuff around you.

That one thing, better: Reinventing the stuff around you.

Made with DALL-E

You’ve hit a limitation.

You’re trying to do something but don’t have… enough money. Enough time. Enough resources. Enough something.

Today, I’ll reveal a resource you didn’t know you have: It’s the stuff all around you — but with a twist.

You should stop using those things the way they’re meant to be used. Instead, you must find their non-obvious uses.

What’s that? To explain, I’ll first tell you one of my favorite stories of entrepreneurial hustle…

When you don’t have $25,000 

Years ago, Joelle Mertzel learned a life-changing fact: Butter doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

Why don’t more people leave it out, allowing the butter to be soft and easily spreadable? There are two answers. One, they don’t know better. Two, they don’t have the right butter dish!

When you lift the lid on a regular dish, it can bump into butter and make a big mess. So Joelle created Butterie — a flip-top dish, so the lid never bumps the butter. 

Credit: Photo via Butteriedish.com

Would people want this, Joelle wondered? She didn’t know, so she asked a market research company for help.

“No problem,” they said. “That’ll be $25,000.”

Joelle couldn’t spend that kind of money. Then, one day, she was at the airport and realized something: Airports are full of people who have absolutely nothing better to do than answer questions about butter dishes!

“I bought a one-way ticket from L.A. to Vegas, which cost like $39,” she told me. “That way I could get through security. Then I just spent the day going from gate to gate to gate, asking people, ‘Would you buy this product? What would you pay? What color would you want?’ Then, by the time I made it to the end of the terminal, everyone's new people are queued up and I’m doubling back.”

This is how she did her research — ultimately crafting Butterie into a best-selling Amazon product that’s been covered in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

I love this story because it’s the true spirit of entrepreneurship. It’s about hustle, cleverness, and a never-say-no attitude.

But here’s the real genius behind it: Joelle found the non-obvious use for an airport. And that’s what made the difference.

The usefulness of non-obvious uses

Everything in the world has two uses.

First, there’s the obvious use. It’s what everyone uses the thing for.

Then, there’s the non-obvious use. That’s for you to discover.

The internet is full of non-obvious uses for household objects. For example, just cut a tennis ball in half — then easily open jars or pop off bottle caps!

The medical world is also full of this. One in five drug prescriptions are “off-label,” meaning they were prescribed for something different from what the FDA approved that drug for.

But this concept is not just limited to tennis balls and pharmaceuticals. Everything around us has a non-obvious use. Every wall is a place to carve a door. Every airport is a market research facility. 

And here’s the best part: When you discover a non-obvious use for something, you have a competitive advantage — because you just created value where others saw nothing.

I once interviewed a guy named Chaim Piekarski, who had a struggling camera products business. Then he realized something: Amazon wasn’t just a place to sell products — it was a place to test products!

Chaim built a team, who spent their days reading Amazon reviews. For example, they’d find a popular portable speaker — and in the reviews, they might find bunch of people saying things like “I wish this had rechargeable batteries” and “I wish this was waterproof.” Then Chaim’s company would create a waterproof, portable speaker with rechargeable batteries, do a small run with a low-cost manufacturer, put it on Amazon, and see what happened.

I met Chaim in 2013, when this strategy had built him a nine-figure business in New Jersey. When I reached back out in 2021 to include him in my book, his company C+A Global had become one of the world’s largest third-party platform sellers on Amazon, with offices around the world. He’d also purchased Ritz Camera and Skymall, that catalog you used to find on airplanes.

Chaim had found the non-obvious use for Amazon. And just like Joelle, it changed everything.

How can you do this too?

It starts with a mental filter.

Too often, we’re focused on our big problem. Joelle couldn’t afford market research. Chaim had a suffering camera-product business.

When big problems are on our mind, solutions are hard to find. That’s because big problems are too complex and specific. It’s hard to find a key if your lock is too complex.

So instead, ask yourself this:

“In the simplest terms, what do I need right now?” 

Carry that around in your head. Use it as your filter. There’s the old saying, “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Usually that’s meant as a bad thing — but what if you embraced it? A hammer needs to hit things. You need something too. Look around. Question everything. Can this fulfill my need? Can that? How?

You’ll start to see the world differently.

Joelle couldn’t afford market research, but she didn’t need market research. She needed a place where people were willing to talk. That’s what she saw at the airport.

Chaim’s camera-products company was failing, but he didn’t need a better way to sell camera products. He needed a better understanding of what consumers wanted. That’s what he saw on Amazon.

At the beginning of today’s newsletter, I wrote this: “You’re trying to do something but don’t have… enough money. Enough time. Enough resources. Enough something.”

Those aren’t your exact needs. Money, time, resources — those are your perceived means to fulfill your needs. It would be great if you had those things. But you do not. So let’s not focus on that. Instead, the question is: What do you have around you, and how can those things be bent to your will? How can they fulfill your needs — by being used in a non-obvious way, visible only to you, because you saw what others couldn’t, because you thought differently than everyone else.

That’s how to do one thing better.

P.S. Want to expand your network? On May 16, I’m hosting a unique call with the One Thing Better community — we’ll break into small groups, where you can meet professionals like you and workshop your greatest challenges together. It’s a blast and super useful. Click here to join, and then get login info here.

P.P.S. Want to see the face of 75,000-year-old female Neanderthal? I’m obsessed with this kind of stuff: Scientists reconstructed this woman’s face, and it’s so incredibly real and thought-provoking. (I found this in Nice News, a great newsletter that shares feel-good news.)

P.P.S. Did you miss last week’s newsletter? It was about how to solve your big problems, by finding your real problems. Read!

Let's Connect!

New to the newsletter? Subscribe for free and take control of your future.

💌 What do you think? Let me know!

📕 Order my book to future-proof your career!