If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 11-07-14

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. Put up a knocker. Add a sign. And put a doorman out to steer opportunity your way.

Where am I going with this? I see too much victim mentality and it drives me crazy. The worst kind is the jealous kind, seeing other organization’s success as simply a matter of good luck. That company is so lucky because they serve the booming oil and gas industry; or, they are constantly reviewing their market opportunities and just adjusted earlier than others. That other company is so fortunate that they didn’t invest in a Java platform that the iPad is making obsolete; or, they had dynamic development planning and were able to start investing in HTML 5 before you did.

Yes, there is a good amount of luck in the world. And it can work both ways. When people ask me about my career planning, I like to tell the following story. When I was at Lehigh University, I interviewed at Chrysler. I wasn’t really a car guy, and couldn’t imagine living in Michigan, but knew enough not to turn down the opportunity for an interview. There was an ice storm the day I was to fly out for my interview. My friend dropped me off at the airport and even had a fender-bender on the drive back. Flight after flight was cancelled. But I stuck with it, until around 5 PM when I had enough. I called the coordinator to tell her to cancel my interviews. But I had likely just missed her – she had gone for the day. Someone was picking me up at the hotel at 7 AM and its not like we all had cell phones for me to call him and tell him not to come. So feeling bad that I would be leaving this person standing in a hotel lobby not knowing what to do, I decided to stick it out. I got to my hotel at 2 AM, had to iron everything, and get a couple hours sleep before the interviews started. And the rest is history.

LUCK! If the coordinator had answered the phone, I wouldn’t have gone on the interview, wouldn’t have met the people who turned me onto MIT, wouldn’t have been part of the Chrysler transformation, and wouldn’t have met Andy Carlino and Denny Pawley who I co-founded the Lean Learning Center with. Luck!

Now I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have been successful had the person picked up the phone, but I cannot claim this was all one grand plan. But what turned it into an opportunity for me was that I knew what I was looking for. I was already making most of my major decisions based on the primary factor of how much I would learn. Chrysler had a fantastic structure for that, and I met people who could be tremendous mentors. So when I saw the opportunity, I knew what it meant for me and grabbed ahold of it.

Planning matters. So does luck. But more than anything is having a clear idea of where you want to go (a vision if you want to call it that), keeping your eyes wide open for anything that intersects with that idea, and the courage and conviction to grab it when it happens.

Opportunity doesn’t knock, and doesn’t always announce itself. We have to train ourselves, and prepare our systems of work, to make the most of whatever opportunity we were blessed to experience.