Thursday, November 05, 2009

Problems Can Be Opportunities in Disguise

One of the most desirable attitudes of a leader is an ability to view problems as opportunities and setbacks as temporary inconveniences. This positive attitude also welcomes change as friendly and is not upset by surprises, even negative ones. How we approach challenges and problems is a crucial aspect of our decision making process, whether in business or in our personal lives. In companies and environments in which criticism, pessimism, cynicism and motivation by fear prevail, an attitude develops that leads to avoiding failure at all costs. The trouble with failure avoidance is that it’s simultaneously avoidance of success, which depends on big risks.

Innovation and creativity are impossible when people are in fear of being penalized for failure.
Early experience often teaches that failure is to be avoided at all costs. This begins in childhood, when we encounter the first “No!!” It grows like a weed when we are criticized by our parents, other family members, our teachers and our peers. It leads to associating ourselves with our mistakes, and to a self-image of clumsiness and awkwardness. Not wanting to be criticized or rejected, many adults also seek security rather than risk looking foolish or appearing awkward. They quietly ride with the system, not rocking the boat.

All lasting success in life is laced with problems and misfortunes which require creativity and innovation. Winners turn stumbling blocks into steppingstones.

In the 1920s, when Ernest Hemingway was working hard to perfect his craft, he lost a suitcase containing all his manuscripts. The devastated Hemingway couldn’t conceive of redoing his work. He could think only of the months he’d devoted to his arduous writing—and for nothing, he was now convinced.

But when he lamented his loss to poet Ezra Pound, Pound called it a stroke of luck. Pound assured Hemingway that when he rewrote the stories, he would forget the weak parts and only the best material would reappear. Instead of framing the event in disappointment, Pound cast it in the light of opportunity. Hemingway did rewrite the stories, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This week, concentrate on framing your challenges as “opportunities to grow” rather than “disappointments and problems.”

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