For Everyday Leaders Opportunity Knocks in the Darkness


As the New Year approaches, so does opportunity. It might be hard to see amidst the layoffs and foreclosures. Maybe you read as I did that newspapers are laying people off in big numbers. After criticizing so many others for not facing change, it seems the newspapers haven’t done so well with it either.

I was talking to an exec who recently took a buyout and I asked him, “Knowing what you know now, what do you think your paper should have done fifteen years ago?” He said, “R & D.” He said that putting out a new product – which is what a paper is – every 24 hours makes it very hard to look outside the immediate demands of the business. He said they would spend six months redesigning a section of the paper, but almost no comparable energy thinking about the new information technology. What a missed opportunity! Look what they had: Smart people; great writers, who had loyal followers; the ability to freely advertise and drive traffic to electronic sites; advertisers aplenty; yet they were stuck in their identity: we are newsPAPERS, after all. In internal conversations they frequently saw the internet as a threat to them instead of as an enormous opportunity, and now they’re desperately scrambling to catch up.

What if they had steered right into what they had long recognized as a threat? What if they set aside brainpower, time, and money to seize OPPORTUNITY outside their paper world? Imagine where they might be, if they had looked for what are sometimes called “disruptive technologies” – ideas or products that don’t fit the core business strategy but have real promise in another domain.

If you want to be an everyday leader: adopt the mindset that there ARE always opportunities. Yes things are tough now. But you can buy things – stocks (I bought 100 shares of Ford for my kids – and out of love for the company and my state – for $160 dollars last week); cars, inventory, brainpower, real estate are all at prices you could not have imagined even six months ago. I hear you say, “Mulhern, have you heard there’s a recession out there? Duh! Nice that you have money.” Well, if your brain went to that as quickly as I suspect it did, then you’re doing the natural, but not so helpful thing, of focusing on scarcity and not on opportunity and abundance. In every ebb and flow there is opportunity.

Consider these:

  • The hearings in DC created an opportunity for the Big 3 to begin to get at the incredibly wrong-headed myths that so many Americans have about their vehicles.
  • Opportunities exist that flow from our changing demographics, e.g., serving aging populations.
  • There are new technologies every day that open whole new possibilities (for example, are you hating LinkedIn messages, or setting aside some time to understand what LinkedIn could do for you?).
  • Via the internet, you can sell stuff to people around the world, e.g., through eBay or in your own backyard, through Craig’s list or those local papers.
  • Even an adult child moving back in out of economic necessity creates opportunities: for family relationships, shared work burdens, the synergy that comes with diversity.
  • Even our tight holiday budgets give us opportunities: to set priorities, to appreciate the priceless things at the heart of the holidays, or to turn our office holiday parties into parties of thanks, with donations to those in need. Tough times tighten human bonds.

As you look ahead, fight the doom and gloom, and seek for opportunities that lead to economic, social, and spiritual growth. Especially in seemingly terrible times . . .

Lead with your best self,