Several years ago, on my way to return a rental car, I went to fill up the gas tank. I casually mentioned to the colleague who was riding with me, “I wonder what side of the car the gas tank is on?”
He casually said, “The gas gauge will tell you.”
I was shocked. I’ve been driving cars for 35 years and had no idea that the gas gauge had that capability. I felt totally auto-impaired.
Immediately, I looked and sure enough, right next to the little drawing of a gas tank was an arrow that pointed to the driver’s side of the car. But is that really what it means? I was skeptical. So, I quickly jumped out of the car (after it stopped rolling, of course) to check. And it was right.
Now, every time I get in a car, I check to see if the arrow is there. Turns out, it is in most cars. When did this happen? And what else am I missing because I don’t look or I don’t even know to look?
I suspect this happens to all of us. There are opportunities we miss because we’re not looking in the right place.
Great sales people can walk into any room and figure out a way to make money. I’ve bought coupon books for things I don’t even want from some of those great sales people. To them, everything everywhere is a potential opportunity.
Some of you, however, pass these opportunities by because you have your focus elsewhere. And some of you are so easily distracted by everything around you, you can’t focus clearly on anything. And some of you are just not that observant and routinely walk into things.
I believe that seeing opportunities requires a type of peripheral vision that keeps our minds focused on the task at hand while being open to things in our surroundings. It’s the same principle that allows you to drive while talking to people in your car or listening to music.
So, how do you improve your peripheral opportunity vision? Try these techniques:
Change your pattern. When you’re in a situation in your personal or work life, try changing the way you do things. If you always drive to work the same way, try a different route. If you sit by the same people in meetings, try sitting somewhere else. My friend George Walther orders items in a restaurant based on the date. If it’s May 23rd, he will order the 23rd item on the menu. He feels it gives him new culinary opportunities!
Look at your connections differently. At a networking event, we often look for the people who can help us in some way. But what if we look for other attributes such as common interests, intriguing jobs, or just someone who is not attracting the attention that the extroverts are attracting?
Recently, I connected with someone who I thought had an interesting business but who was not the typical prospect for the other entrepreneurs in the room. He was very niched and semi-retired. Turns out, we had several mutual friends, a lot of common interests, and we are now working on a project together. The connection would have never happened if I had only looked for someone who could help get me business.
Ask yourself, “What am I missing?” To improve your peripheral opportunity vision, constantly ask yourself what you might be missing. As you walk around the office, look at the environment with new eyes. As you talk to your spouse or children, think about what might be behind the words. As you finalize your report, think about what might give it a fresh look or fresh perspective.
Malcolm Gladwell is an “opportunity artist” in that he is constantly looking at data with fresh eyes. As a result, he is a bestselling author that engages his readers. He did the work for us by asking, “What am I missing?”
It’s very easy to get into habits and routines that lead us down a boring and uneventful path through life. If we change the way we approach our daily routines, there is no limit to the opportunities we may see.
What are you missing?