I love hearing the stories of social entrepreneurs; their stories of courage and passion, stories of overcoming obstacles and creating something that will deeply affect someone else’s life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everything or every idea is a winner, I’ve had my fair share of the opposite. When everyone else in the room is heralding the newest hero in social impact, sometimes I’m just not on the same page. It’s the same in reverse, sometimes all I hear in a room is “no”, but I come out seeing a great opportunity. I often get asked, how am I able to hear a different story?
The truest answer I have is that I use my gut instinct. When people say something isn’t possible, I can often see and feel an opportunity that will take us somewhere. As I’ve gotten older and had to think more deeply about finding opportunities and how to teach others how to see through adversity, I’ve realised there is some method alongside my seeming madness.
I think there are four attitudes we can approach life with that allow us to see opportunity where others see risk and difficulty.
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”
— Winston Churchill
I’m deeply curious and have never lost this. As children we are naturally curious and constantly asking two key questions ‘why?’ and ‘what if?’ Unfortunately we have this beaten out of us by the time we’re about eight or nine years old. But the ‘why?’ question is crucial, it leads us to insight and understanding. It helps us discover how things work and what possibilities might exist. Curiosity keeps our mind engaged to work out the implications.
Being prepared to jump into the unknown
My preparedness to go into unknown places has lead me into all sorts of troubling situations, including sleeping on the floor of a rat-infested barn and being shot at in a market place in Port Moresby. But, it has also led me to some of the most wonderful places. For example, the rat-infested barn lead to the establishment of a midwifery program in Cambodia that over the past ten years has influenced the practice of literally thousands of Cambodian traditional birth attendants.
The truth is, I often don’t know exactly where an opportunity will take us, and where we’re going to land. It’s in these moments we need to trust our instinct, curiosity and lived experience to create a path forward.
“Ideas alone don’t change our world for the better. Ideas that inspire action do”
– Simon Sinek
We live in a vast new world that is changing at the fastest pace in human history. Our ability to not only learn, but I think more importantly to unlearn, is paramount. There is an old saying that wisdom isn’t about what we’re prepared to learn, but instead about what we’re prepared to unlearn. The problem I see is that we get anchored to the wrong things; we often get anchored to the ‘how?’ and the ‘what?’ instead of the ‘why?’ We need to be continually unlearning our ‘how’s and ‘what’s but our why is what centres us and keeps us on the right track.
Taking time to stop and reflect on all of the above is critical to us seeing new ways. Reflecting on bringing together our ‘why?’ and ‘what if? questions, thinking about where I need to jump into the unknown and where do I need to push my ‘what’ and ‘how’ to unlearn old ways and discover new ones.
Too many leaders act with such certainty; what if we took the time to discover new pathways to solve problems from a different vantage point? Just maybe we will see possibilities where others see impossibilities, to solve problems where others have given up.