I once knew a woman who did everything that she could so that she could live life in her recliner and never have to get up. She kept batteries for the television remote handy; she had a refrigerator and microwave within arm reach. I am confident that if she could have figured out a way to go to the bathroom from that recliner that she would have done so. She was part of a healthcare program that checked up on her twice a week. Using her natural charm and creating a bit of guilt she convinced this healthcare worker to pick up mail and groceries for her. She believed that is she limited her motion and her interaction with the outside world that she could avoid problems. Unfortunately all of that processed food and lack of movement and even more devastating her lack of relationships caused her to die an early death.
How to see opportunity even when life is full of problems
There is no way to avoid problems in this world. In my experience there has never been a project or dream worth achieving that did not come with its own unique set of challenges. However, those some difficulties most typically also came with unforeseen opportunities. Let us look at two common problem areas and at some of the possible opportunities that can show themselves if you will see them.
One of the most common areas that problems arise is in the area of health. I once partnered on several projects with a man who had a type of cancer in his throat. Initially he had the opportunity to study and understand cancer. Up until that point even though he had known people with the disease he was never motivated to do the research or seek to understand causes and treatments. Now he was propelled into the world of cancer research. Today, he is a subject matter expert on the topic of cancer. While he may not know as much as the great research professionals out there, he is who I would go to for any question on the topic. Not only would he give me data he understands the details from his own experience and can explain it in ways that even the most emotionally devastated of people can understand. With this passion and a history in Toastmasters he decided that he should do something with the knowledge.
That is where his second opportunity arose out of this situation. Cancer research doctors most typically prefer to spend their time in the lab. However, in order to get funding they often need to hang up the white lab coat and put on a suit in order to speak to the public. This man went to the doctors and received the right information so that he could go out and speak on behalf of many of these researchers. For many months he made his living as a public speaker. Yes, from time to time the researchers still had to come out of the labs but he was able to reduce their time on stage considerably and they appreciated him for it. He spoke across the region and encouraged many people who were suffering with assorted forms of cancer. His life had more purpose than it ever had before.
Eventually the cancer in his throat created so much damage that speech was difficult which led to his third opportunity. After a procedure to create a hole in his throat he learned to use a voice box. He discovered that many companies are looking for people that are willing to experiment with different variations of the device. He was able to make a living for several more months as a guinea pig of sorts and helped several companies modify their devices for comfort and use in public venues. Since he did not deny his problem he was able to see opportunities that he never would have had otherwise.
The same is true for most health issues. Look carefully for the opportunity in the midst of pain.
It had been a mild day at the office with nothing really to talk about around the table. The day had been smooth and to be honest a little boring. After dinner we decided to take a little trip to the lake to walk around and enjoy nature. As we pulled into the public use area my phone rang. Typically I ignore the phone when I am out with my family but on this occasion, noticing who it was that was calling I thought that I should answer it. On the other end of the line I heard about a problem that had popped up. After asking a few questions and getting some not encouraging answers I hung up the phone. Being at the lake I took in the scenery and watched birds dive down into the water to collect their dinner. Across the way a retired fisherman was finishing up for the day and was putting his haul into the back of his pickup. No one else in my view had a problem in that moment.
For any leader this scenario plays out regularly. Work problems are an opportunity for a leader to reveal true character. You can rise to the occasion and be a hero or you can give the opportunity to an up and coming staff member and show the depth of your organization and potentially create a better future for your organization.
I read once that NASA’s space program was stuck with a problem that threatened to delay the trip to the moon. These incredibly intelligent men were stumped by how the astronauts would be able to write in space. Try writing with a pen while laying upside down. While you start out strong, eventually the ink moves to the back of the ink tube and you no longer are able to write. This would be a problem in space and the smart guys were stumped about how to write in zero gravity. For weeks they grappled with the issue and no solutions seemed to present themselves. Noticing one of the scientists who was particularly frustrated a future astronaut struck up a conversation with him. After hearing the problem this leader walked over to a table, taped a piece of paper to underside of the table, grabbed a pencil and wrote a letter and handed it back to the scientist. The problem was solved, use the old fashioned pencil. The problem gave the astronaut the opportunity to show that he was not just bold but also could solve problems.
Sitting in the wings of any organization is that future dreamer and leader who is sleeping in the mailroom. The company would benefit greatly from this man or woman’s wisdom and abilities but they are not even noticed. But what if the problem that the leader was wrestling with could be answered by the guy on the back dock or cleaning the toilets? The problem reveals the depth of the organization and suddenly all things come together and the future can look bright. Think back to the movie “The Natural”. Toward the end of the movie Roy Hobb’s bat breaks at a critical moment. All looks lost for the Knights. It was the bat boy who had made a bat for the hero and gave him the encouragement to hit the game winning homerun. That is the opportunity that is awaiting your organization.
Take a deep breath and know that problems are coming. That is ok they are opportunities. Look for them and get excited when they come.