Saturday, July 31, 2010

Innovators of Opportunity

I dream for a living.
- Steven Spielberg

I read a story from Bits & Pieces about the Irish Potato Famine (1846-1851) which resulted in a 30 percent drop in population of the west of Ireland. The prolonged suffering of the Irish peasantry had broken the survivors in body and spirit.

John Bloomfield, the owner of the Castle Caldwell in County Fermanagh, was working on the recovery of his estate when he noticed that the exteriors of his tenant farmers’ small cottages had a vivid white finish. He was informed that there was a clay deposit on his property of unusually fine quality. To generate revenue and provide employment on his estate, he built a pottery at the village of Belleek in 1857. The unusually fine clay yielded porcelain china that was translucent with a glass-like finish. It was worked in to traditional Irish designs and was an immediate success.

Today, Belleek’s delicate strength and its iridescent pearlized gl`ze is enthusiastically purchased the world over. The multimillion-dollar industry arose from innovative thinking during some very anxious times.

Today we continue to experience the effects of a recession, unemployment remains high, and many are struggling to make ends meet. Through the eyes of history we understand the cyclical nature of the human spirit and its ability to overcome adversity.

The resilient leader when faced with anxious times is an innovator of opportunity that gives way to a better day. What are the leadership characteristics of these innovators?

Innovators are resilient in hardship. Given the choice, no one prefers to go through famine or recession. But innovative leaders find ways to meet the challenge and give hope to those around him. When difficult times come, innovators tend to revert back to the basics that made them strong to begin with.

Writing for, Andrew Beattie says, “The biggest benefit of hard times is that companies get hurt for inefficiencies that they laughed off in better times. A recession means general fat trimming for companies, from which they should emerge stronger, and that’s good for investors.” As in the famine, today’s leader finds ways to emerge stronger than before.

Charles Dickens said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of it for another.” Resilient leaders lift the spirits of the broken to believe that while today you might be in a famine, clay in the dirt tomorrow can bring new hope.

Innovators are not afraid to get dirty. It was when Bloomfield was working on the recovery of his estate that he noticed the white finish on the exterior of the cottages. The discovery of the clay deposits was the prelude to the creation of a multimillion-dollar porcelain china business.

When faced with the adversities of life, innovative leaders refuse to wallow in despair. Be it by design or unexpected discovery; leaders are purveyors of solutions by which everyone around them reaps the rewards. Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed up in overalls and looks like work.” Bloomfield was not sitting idly by, his hands were dirty and the payoff was astounding.

Innovators retool their thinking. The same ground that was the source of their famine has now becomes the source of their fortune. How you look at your circumstances can either hold you back or move you forward. The solution to your problem is not as far away as you might think. The challenge of the innovative leader is to look under the rocks with a fresh set of eyes to the possibilities before him.

An old story from Reader’s Digest illustrates the power of right thinking and a positive outlook. It describes how both the hummingbird and the vulture fly over our nation's deserts. All vultures see is rotting meat, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. They live on the past. They fill themselves with what is dead and gone. But hummingbirds live on what is. They seek new life. They fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. We all do.

Benjamin Disraeli said, “The great secret of success in life is for the man to be ready when his opportunity comes.” Opportunities are knocking, are you ready?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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