Opinion: Bing Lee, Biz and me - a short lesson on making opportunity knock

Tony Story
By Tony Story | 28 April 2014

This week, Biz Stone has been keeping me company. He just released Things A Little Bird Told Me. It’s kind of an autobiography. Mostly, it’s the story of how he created Twitter. It’s quite a nice yarn.

Turns out, back in high school, Biz was not selected to be on any of his school’s sports teams. But he really wanted to be on one. Like, a lot. His solution? He finds a sport his school didn’t yet play (lacrosse) and starts the school’s first lacrosse team. He’d never played lacrosse before. It didn’t matter. He found he was actually pretty good at it. But, more importantly, he was no longer the loser who couldn’t make any team. He was a guy with a team. Sure it was a team he had to invent to be able to be selected, but a team nonetheless.

Biz tells us that opportunity is manufactured.

You know those moments when you read something and it’s like someone has just put into succinct words something you have always known and believed, but never quite known how to express? Suddenly, memories came flooding back.

When I first finished school, I wanted a job while I was studying at university. After getting rejected by several retail stores for 'lack of experience' I called the manager of the local Bing Lee electronics shop with a proposal: “I will come and work for you for free for two weeks. If I can sell, you give me a job.”

He agreed. And the short version is, I sold a lot of fridges, got a job and learned a life lesson that has never escaped me – a lesson Biz has articulated perfectly. Opportunity is manufactured.

We have the chance to manufacture opportunities every day. A really practical thing I’m trying to do is see ‘interruptions’ in my day as opportunities to be manufactured, rather than distractions or obstacles to my ‘real work’ getting done.

You know what I mean. You are in the middle of designing something awesome or churning out some inspired copy, and some punk from UX comes to ask you a question you’re pretty sure you’ve already answered. Interruption? Distraction? Or filled with potential to manufacture opportunity?

Douglas Conant wrote a bit about this in Harvard Business Review recently: “These thousands of little interruptions aren’t keeping you from the work, they are the work. Every single interaction is rife with the potential to become the high point or the low point in someone’s day. Every 'interruption' offers an opportunity.”

Do you see interruptions to your ‘work’ as annoying distractions? Or as your chance to manufacture an opportunity to support, lead and encourage your colleagues or your team? I’m not great at this. But I’m learning.

Now, what about with our clients?

Are we really happy for our opportunities to be limited by doing whatever walks in the door? Part of our role must be to manufacture opportunities for our clients, rather than sit back and wait for a brief to be served up on a platter. Maybe that means creating a solution to a problem they don’t even know they have yet; or an innovation that will connect the client to consumers in a way that they could never have imagined. Perhaps it is a response to a brief that goes way beyond the intended scope.

We are uniquely placed to be giving this sort of leadership. We are close enough to our client’s business to understand it, but not so close that our objectivity is blinded.

Clearly, a temptation in a busy agency is to spend all of our time doing work as it comes in the door. But that isn’t leadership. And it sure isn’t reaching our potential. In fact, it’s kind of lazy.

Leadership happens when we manufacture opportunities, both in-house and for our clients.

And the beauty is, when we manufacture opportunities that help others, we find we have actually manufactured opportunities for ourselves.

Tony Story
Associate creative director
The White Agency

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