Real Leaders

Seeing Opportunity While Staying Sane in the Age of Disruption

After more than two decades of having the “Paper of Record” come to my door each morning, I cancelled my subscription to The New York Times. The shocking, confusing, door-darkening news on the front page posed too great a risk to my psyche. The election of Donald Trump as President provoked a sense of fear and disruption in me.

I have faced radical disruptions in my life. From having my first home almost destroyed by arson and then vandalized three times before we moved back in, to my wife’s three consecutive miscarriages before our child was born, to watching the Twin Towers fall from my office window to an employee stealing an enormous sum from our company as the economy crashed in 2008. 

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Those disruptions taught me the critical importance of creating internal and external structures to feel safe. Feeling safe psychologically, financially and socially is essential for survival and certainly for finding opportunity in crisis. Opportunity can be seized even in the midst of fear. I was able to survive and even grow enormously through each of these crisis. But operating out of fear is not sustainable. It is exhausting and if it persists long enough it will reverse any gains that have been made.

Even these life-altering experiences left me unprepared for the radical disruption of our new political leadership. I needed new, inspiring ways of being to create hope and meaningful change in my life and work. So I cancelled my subscription to The New York Times and found a new strategy to engage the world when I opened the door in the morning. I still pay attention to the news, yet now, I am more selective about where, when and how much of it I consume.

Limiting my exposure to the seemingly nonstop onslaught of bad news, I became better able to ask the central question I pose in my new book Culture of Opportunity: “What is the opportunity in this disruption?” The answers came to me in fits and starts, piecing themselves together as I followed the subtle clues that seeped into my brain. Smile sweetly to strangers. Open doors for them, recognize something that stands out. Be even closer to my family and friends. Listen more deeply to how their hearts are affected. And (much more difficult for me) tell them how my heart often felt broken wide open by the cruelty that seemed to have been given an official seal of approval.

In the work we do at The Opportunity Lab, we have focused even more on helping our clients build Cultures of Opportunity, safe places for their people to have a voice, even when that voice challenges the status quo. We encourage cultures that enable people from all parts of the organization to contribute. Our tools, like SuccessDNA, Opportunity Teams, 360 feedback reviews, and Resource Maps all make the talents, relationships and knowledge of an organization visible and accessible. We have been able to support the sustainable growth of companies that care deeply about their customers, their employees, the communities they do business in, and the Earth that supports all of it. 

With our government in a state of gridlock, I have come to believe that business must be the driving force to create a more caring and conscious world. By business I mean customers, employees, shareholders, vendors and leaders. As participants in government we vote, at most, once a year. As participants in the businesses we interact with, we can vote many times every day. We can choose who we work for, who we buy from, and who we invest in. 

Businesses and people who understand that these disruptions are opportunities in disguise take the time to assess the changing landscape. Their belief that they need to adapt made them grow and stronger. Those that succumbed to denial and resistance did not. Look at the extraordinary organizations that grew stronger or started up during the crisis: Patagonia, Unilever, Warby Parker, Eileen Fisher, Etsy, Method, Trader Joes, Costco, Starbucks, Ford, and The Huffington Post, to cite a few examples.

These organizations have a higher purpose and care deeply about their customers, their people, and the planet. This adaptability allowed them to prosper even in times of great disruption. You can choose to buy from, invest in and work for these great companies. How do we answer the question: what is the opportunity in this disruption? We answer it by voting every day, choosing the companies we buy from, work for, and invest in.

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