Saturday, October 2, 2010

The DNA of Opportunity

An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.
- Winston Churchill

I enjoyed reading a story from Bits & Pieces about an energetic young man who began as a clerk in a hardware store. Like many old-time hardware stores, the inventory included thousands of items that were obsolete or seldom called for by customers.

The young man was smart enough to know that no thriving business could carry such an inventory and still show a healthy profit. He proposed a sale to get rid of the stuff. The owner was reluctant but finally agreed to let him set up a table in the middle of the store and try and sell off a few of the oldest items. Every product was priced at ten cents.

The sale was a success and the young fellow got permission to run a second sale. It, too, went over just as well as the first. This gave the young clerk an idea. Why not open a store that would sell only nickel and dime items? He could run the store and his boss could supply the capital.

The young man’s boss was not enthusiastic. “The plan will never work,” he said, “because you can’t find enough items to sell at a nickel and a dime.” The young man was disappointed but eventually went ahead on his own and made a fortune out of the idea. His name was F.W. Woolworth. Years later his old boss lamented, “As near as I can figure, every word I used in turning Woolworth down has cost me about a million dollars!”

Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Woolworth demonstrated what every wise leader knows; not every opportunity will be handed to you and if you are going to succeed you have to take risks. Opportunity is seized when you understand its DNA or what I call the 3 R’s of Opportunity.

The first opportunity is to reinvent your purpose. Woolworth did not try to reinvent new uses for the old inventory. He cleaned it out to make way for new products. The novelty of the sale is what brought in the customers, not the outdated products. Often times it is not outdated ideas that hold organizations back but a lack of forward-thinking leaders who don’t know what to do with them.

Learning to adapt in changing times is critical to the survival of your organization. Woolworth made an opportunity where one did not exist in the understanding of his boss. It was a bold move that paid great dividends. In these changing times are you capable of making the necessary changes to ensure that your purpose going forward will be preserved?

The second opportunity is to rethink your strategy. Had Woolworth listened to his boss we would likely know nothing about him or the F.W. Woolworth stores. Woolworth’s idea may have been gutsy in its time, but nonetheless was a creative risk that paid off.

Uncertain of its potential success, Woolworth’s boss shot down the idea for how to move the store forward. Rather than quit, Woolworth launched out on his own and was quite successful. Og Mandino said, “Obstacles are necessary for success because in selling, as in all careers of importance, victory comes only after many struggles and countless defeats. Each rebuff is an opportunity to move forward; turn away from them, avoid them, and you throw away your future.” Your strategy for success will emerge as you drown out the voices of those who say it can’t be done.

The final opportunity is to reclaim your future. Woolworth’s future was not hindered by a near-sighted leader. Instead he was emboldened to move forward despite the pessimistic forecast. And this is the essence of what you must choose as you look at the opportunities before you. Who are you going to listen to and how are you going to respond?

Jim Rohn said, “Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their fortune in someone else’s hands, but not you.” Are you prepared to embrace the opportunities that destiny has chosen for you? It is time to reinvent your purpose, rethink your strategy, and reclaim your future. The opportunity is yours; the time is now.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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