I saw a very interesting and moving quote the other day. It was from Helen Keller. “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” Spoken by others, this quote may not have had the same impact on me. When I think of what Helen Keller was born to, it would have been understandable if all she saw were closed doors. Yet she saw only doors opening onto new possibilities.
Don Yaeger wrote a book about greatness and the true characteristics of champions. While the characteristic he was speaking of was inner fire, he led me to think more about how we can re-frame what might look like an insurmountable problem into an opportunity.
Nick Springer was an active youth who loved to play hockey. He contracted meningitis while hiking in the mountains. When he woke up from an induced coma he founded himself a quadruple amputee. Undeterred and with family support, he took up sledge hockey by duct taping a stick to the remaining portion of his arm, and recovered his joy of team sports. Friends introduced him to the sport of wheelchair rugby and from there he went on to win gold in the Paralympics in 2008.
The amazing thing is that Nick doesn’t look at what he has lost. He understands that he wouldn’t have what he has or have achieved what he has achieved without facing what most would see as an insurmountable challenge. “If I could trade never getting sick for all the experiences and all the memories, would I do it? There’s no way in hell. I’ve done things in my life I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M in the United States, was attempting to develop a super-strong adhesive, but instead he accidentally created a an adhesive with much lower adhesion … something that could stick to paper and be removed without damage. For five years, Silver promoted his invention within 3M, both informally and through seminars, but without much success. In 1974, a colleague of his, Art Fry, who had attended one of Silver’s seminars, came up with the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook. The rest is history. It took a second person who had no attachment to the original solution to take a “failure” and turn it into a multi-billion dollar success.
Does some form of this principle apply to us at work as well?
When a customer presents a complaint to us, is it because we are not giving the customer what he wants, or is it because they are looking for more? Is a concern actually an opportunity to explore an expanded solution? Do we get too hung up with fixing the problem that we miss the opportunity that might be found by stopping and asking a few more questions? And by finding a solution to the customer’s true needs do we actually end up with a raving fan instead of a customer?
As a leader, we may be faced with a situation where a member of our team is dissatisfied with their position or their pay. As a result that person may be at risk of leaving the organization, they may be projecting a degree of negativity into the rest of the team, perhaps their job performance suffers, or some other problem. If we deal with this as a problem we are dealing with the negativity at play, and psychology suggests that when we address such negativity we actually may reinforce the behaviour we would like to adjust.
What if we re-framed this as an opportunity? Is there an opportunity to discuss their career desires and help them build a solid plan to get there? Is there an opportunity to give them new challenges and in the process solve a resourcing issue? Perhaps there are some underlying personal stresses that are causing this person to look for additional financial resources and by having a compassionate discussion we can guide that person towards other forms of aid. Now we are looking at bringing a positive energy to the forefront!
Maybe we can’t transform all problems into opportunities. But what’s wrong with approaching each one as if we can? At the very least it shifts our own thought process into the positive, and if we are working with others they are going to see that in us. But in the bet case scenario we may come up with a magical shift and end up with a treasure of sorts!
How about you? Do you have any stories of insurmountable opportunities?