If You Want To Be Successful, Welcome Obstacles

The most successful people turn obstacles into assets. Here's how they do it


By Paul B. Brown

Let’s start with three truisms.

1. If you do exactly what everyone else does, you will never have a competitive edge. You will always be the same as everyone else.

2. There are countless opportunities out there, if you can just figure out how to solve the market need.

3. Solving market needs is difficult. And if you say, as most people do, “the problem is too great for me,” you will wind up with everyone else who didn’t rise to the challenge–and you will never end up gaining a competitive edge.

The people who succeed do more than the other guy. Sure, you can point to examples of people who really got lucky–they chose the right parents and inherited wealth or position or maybe they won some sort of lottery (genetic or actual)–but you never want to have to rely on pure luck for success.

And so that means if you want to stand out from the pack–which is how I define being successful–you need to welcome obstacles, so that you can overcome them.

I’ve written about this before, but in a different context. People who succeed at work and in life believe and act as if “everything is a gift.” Well, maybe not every single thing imaginable. But assuming that everything is a gift is a good way of looking at the problems and surprises you’ll encounter in any endeavor, such as getting a new venture off the ground, obtaining buy-in from your boss, or launching a new product line in an ultra-competitive market.

Why do they act this way? There are three key easons.

1. Bad news is bad news. At some point, you inevitably are going to find out what people don’t like about your product, service, or the approach you are taking in life. You always want to find that out as early as possible, to keep your loses to a minimum.

2. New information could take you in a different direction. You were convinced that the world needed a better Italian restaurant. The world told you it didn’t. But in explaining why they wouldn’t go for your idea, a lot of people said “you know what I would love? At app where I could type in ‘I feel like Italian tonight and would like to spend no more than $75 and have memorable Northern Italian classsics’ and have three close by choices pop up.” And suddenly, you are in the software business.

3. You got evidence. True, it was not what you were expecting or even wanted, but that still puts you ahead of the person who is just thinking about doing something (like opening another Italian restaurant.) You know something they don’t, and that is an asset. You are ahead of the game.

But what if it’s really bad news? It’s a disappointment. You were absolutely certain that your boss would approve your idea for a new marketing campaign, and she said no in a way that is still echoing down the corridor. No reasonable person can define what you’ve encountered as anything but a problem, and most people will try to solve the problem. (“Maybe she will like the idea if I go at it this way instead.”) That’s fine if you can. The problem has gone away and, again, you’ve learned something that others might not know. (The boss hates Y, but she loves Z.)

But what if you can’t solve it? (She hated “Z,” too.) Accept the situation to the point of embracing it. Take as a given that it won’t ever change, and turn it into an asset. What can you do with the fact that it won’t ever change? Maybe it presents a heretofore unseen opportunity. Maybe you build it into your product or service in a way that no competitor (having not acted) could imagine. Could you do it on your own? Could you take the idea to a competitor and use it as your calling card to look for the next job?

The thing to remember is this: Successful people work with what they have at hand— whatever comes along—and try to use everything at their disposal in achieving their goals. And that is why they are grateful for surprises, obstacles, and even disappointments. It gives them more information and resources to draw upon.

And that helps keep them ahead of the other guy, and improves their odds of being successful.

Paul B. Brown is co-author of Just Start published by Harvard Business Review Press.

From: Forbes: Leadership



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here