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One of my most pivotal memories is playing volleyball in my local gym with my friends. While playing, I glanced over my shoulder at the door across the gym, just as a beautiful young woman walked through the doors. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to talk to her.
That was in 1992. In a few months, we will be celebrating 30 years of marriage.
I often wonder, what would have happened if I had stayed home that day? What if I was too preoccupied with the game and didn’t look over my shoulder?
A few years later, the movie Sliding Doors premiered in theaters. In this movie, the main character experiences two distinct trajectories based on whether or not she catches the train home. In one, she makes it onto the train, discovers her fiancé is cheating on her and changes her life for the better. In the other, she misses her train by a split second, doesn’t catch her fiancé with his mistress and her life gets progressively worse.
In the movie, it’s easy to identify the point that catalyzed monumental shifts in her life. But all too often, we are unaware of these moments, and they slip away without our notice. This made me question how we could pay closer attention to our daily choices in business and identify these life-changing moments while they’re still happening — before opportunities slip out of our grasp or problems spiral out of control. The more we can think through the possibilities within each choice, the better we prepare ourselves for (and potentially avoid some of) the ups and downs that come with business.
People often say, “Hindsight is 20/20.” The problem is, if we are only ever looking back, we might miss out on potentially life-changing opportunities or fall into traps we otherwise could have avoided. How can we identify our “sliding door” moments before it’s too late?
Lead with creativity and curiosity
Creativity and curiosity are essential to building a lasting company, enabling you to think of solutions before problems occur and take advantage of opportunities that others might not see. People often say, “necessity is the mother of invention.” But we shouldn’t wait until necessity forces us to invent. We need to think creatively and proactively before the doors close, sending us off on an entirely different trajectory.
In the early days of my company, one of our clients owed us a large sum of money and did not pay on time. I was prepared to panic — if they didn’t pay us, we wouldn’t make payroll and a host of other disasters would occur. However, I decided to take a chance and ask one of our biggest customers to pay early. This moment completely changed our growth trajectory for the better, but being in such a vulnerable position made me consider how we could avoid finding ourselves there again. We began to ask ourselves: What are other worst-case scenarios we could prevent? What are the potential opportunities we may be missing?
In business, we can’t wait for random events to force us to innovate or for serendipity to magically throw a lucrative new deal in our lap. Look to the future — what should you be asking yourself before necessity becomes the mother of invention? Consider where you want your business to go and begin to look ahead for the pathways to take you there and any bumps in the road that will stall your progress.
Be proactive, not reactive
When we think through all of the possibilities present at any moment, we become more proactive business leaders. This allows us to identify situations that could cause problems or be fruitful down the line and adjust our plans accordingly. Furthermore, proactive businesses are much better equipped to handle challenges than businesses that are reactive.
An investor once asked, “What would happen if you lost your biggest customer?” At the time, we knew it would be bad, but this didn’t feel like an urgent question — we were comfortable and our business was growing. But my curiosity kicked in and we started proactively considering this possibility. If we lost our biggest customer, we would lose about 25% of our revenue and our business would suffer. Rather than waiting for this to occur, we created a system that diversified our income and customer base. Now, our business is no longer reliant on any single customer, our growth is steadier and we are looking for more ways to innovate our processes. We could have waited until disaster struck — until we lost our biggest customer and had to scramble to recover — but by choosing to be proactive, we avoided a potential crisis and our business is thriving.
We don’t have to accept the status quo — twiddling our thumbs and waiting for the next disaster to force us into action. Be proactive and consider what simple changes you could make today that would set your business up to thrive in the future.
As leaders, it’s a part of our job to anticipate the future. While we may not have any magical powers to predict everything that will happen — walking into the gym that day, I had no idea I’d meet my wife — there are plenty of things in business we can anticipate, both big and small. The more we understand that these simple, everyday moments can have outsized contributions to our trajectory, the more we will be able to control all of the moving pieces.
Do not allow yourself to be lulled into comfort, allowing the sliding door moments to slip away without notice. Give each choice the attention and importance it requires and, perhaps most importantly, make sure you talk to that girl who just walked through the gym doors — you never know where you might end up in 30 years.