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Tag Archives: seizing opportunity

Straight roads do not make skillful drivers – the importance of continuous learning

continuous learningWhen my youngest niece graduated from high school, the class valedictorian at the  convocation ceremonies celebrated the group’s accomplishments and encouraged his classmates to further learn and challenge themselves. During his address, this quote by Paulo Coelho, celebrated Brazilian lyricist and author, caught my attention.

Straight roads do not make skillful drivers

– Paulo Coelho

True for both high-school students and adults in the workplace

From the perspective of the graduation ceremonies, it was obviously directed at the young people in the room who were about to embark on their adult journeys and adventures. But it occurred to me then that this piece of wisdom was just as applicable in the workplace, particularly in the context of continuous learning. Continue reading

Periods of vulnerability can present both threats and opportunities

vulnerabilityRecently I had a conversation with a scientist friend who told me how biologists use information about animal life cycles to accomplish diametrically opposite objectives – in some cases to purge populations, and in others to conserve them.  The secret: determining in which stage of its life cycle is the animal most vulnerable.  And it’s at these points of vulnerability that either the worst or the best is the easiest to accomplish.  It is when the animals are at greatest risk that it takes the least effort to destroy them, or conversely, to protect them.  He gave me two examples to illustrate his point.

The Bertha armyworm

The Bertha armyworm is a significant insect pest of canola in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the interior of British Columbia.  Like many insects, it goes through a four stage life cycle – egg, larva, pupa and finally, the adult moth stage.  However, their vulnerability is greatest at the larval stage.  As eggs, they are not susceptible to pesticides; as pupae, they are buried in the ground and therefore well protected; as adults, they are widely dispersed and therefore difficult to control.  Because scientists know that the insect’s defences are the weakest when at the larval stage, substantial and successful control efforts are targeted at this point in the life cycle.  Continue reading

Grow your mind and develop your abilities

Stephanie Staples is my professional colleague, a good friend, and a past guest blogger right here on the Turning Managers Into Leaders blog.  And she also hosts Your Life Unlimited on CJOB 680 Radio AM, airing across Canada on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  I was very excited to be her guest on March 11 and 12.  We talked about strategies to grow your mind and develop your abilities, based on my best-selling book Why Does the Lobster Cast Off Its Shell?

Listen to the show!

You can listen to the archived radio show here – my segment starts at about 14.45 mark.  If you don’t have the time to listen to the whole interview, you can still read about 17 strategies to grow your mind and develop your abilities at this same link.  These 17 strategies are selected from the 171 strategies that are listed in my book.

grow your mind


Well, I’d love to hear your thoughtsI’ve used this lobster metaphor for a long time to illustrate and emphasize the overarching leadership themes of growth, change, transition, seizing opportunity, and continuous learning,  This is  both in the book of course, as well as in my signature keynote of the same name.  But I’m always excited and interested to hear about how this metaphor resonates with you (or not!).  Please add your comments below.

Step outside your comfort zone

LobsterResizedAs long-time readers of this blog know, I am a huge advocate of the importance of pushing yourself to step outside your comfort zone as it is the only way to learn and grow, both as an individual as well as an organization.  Why Does the Lobster Cast Off Its Shell? is the title of both my flagship keynote as well as my first book, and both are based on this very premise – in order to continue to grow and develop, you must be willing to step outside your existing boundaries and take calculated risks; to not do so means stagnation and eventual demise.

The challenge of course lies in developing the courage to take the leap, and in acquiring the skills and abilities to actually pull it off.  So here are three ideas to do exactly that:

  • Focus on what’s in it for you.  If you push yourself to network more, speak publicly, volunteer to spearhead a change initiative – how could that help you advance your career?  If there’s a clear personal payoff, it makes it easier to make the first move. Continue reading

Curiosity is a key leadership skill

If you have a furry feline companion in your house, then you know how curious cats are.  They investigate every nook and cranny using all their senses – sight, sound, smell, hearing and touch.  They squeeze into tiny and seemingly-impossible spaces to explore every inch of their territory.  Whether it’s a misplaced toy, an overlooked morsel of food, or just an extra spot to catnap, they prowl for opportunity.  They go over old ground repeatedly, each time as if it were new again.

And so should you!  You are no doubt an authority in your business or area of expertise, but never lose your sense of inquisitiveness about what you already know so well.  Constantly look at your product or service with fresh eyes as if you were exploring it for the very first time.  Delve into long-forgotten corners and take on what appears to be unachievable.  Always seek out ways to fill your customers’ or internal clients’ shifting needs and look for ways to innovate within and outside your existing constraints and parameters.  Monitor what your clients or customers are complaining about as those often represent points of opportunity.  Maybe they grumble that it takes too long to get orders filled or perhaps they criticize your warranty process.  If you’ve heard complaints about lengthy wait-times or gripes about the lack of acceptable choices, then it may just be time to pay closer attention.  No matter what it is, take a second (and a third or fourth) look.  Curiosity never killed a cat; in fact, cats thrive on it.  And so will you and your business!

Business threats are growth opportunities

The best opportunities for growth in any organization are not only market-changing, but often a threat to your existing business.  Consider the story of the digital camera.

In 1975, Steve Sasson, an engineer at Kodak, invented the first digital camera which he cobbled together with pieces from a Super 8 movie camera and a digital voltmeter application, and assorted nickel cadmium batteries and circuit boards.  The prototype was then demonstrated to many internal Kodak audiences throughout 1976, and even though it elicited interest and curiosity, it never went any further, probably because of what it was called – “film-less photography”.  Even Sasson admits that this was an insensitive choice of demonstration title; remember, Kodak’s revenues came from selling film!  To its credit, Kodak recognized that it couldn’t ignore filmless photography forever and in the 1990’s invested substantial sums in development and eventually successfully brought digital photography to the market. But it sat on the idea for almost 20 years because it saw itself in the business of selling film.

So what are the threats to your existing business (or your department)?  Chances are that’s also where your greatest growth opportunities lie.  The odds are that someone inside your organization already has a great idea for how to grow your company, but are you listening to them?  As a leader, it’s up to you to figure out those opportunities before someone else does and one of the easiest ways to do just that – ask your people.  What are you doing to tap into the innovation that already exists in your business or your department?  Do tell.

Obstacles are opportunities in disguise

Sunjay Nath, CSP, is known as the Human Performance Architect. He works with groups and individuals to help them improve their performance through empowerment and leadership.  And today he has graciously agreed to be my guest blogger.  Sunjay is a proud daddy and constantly marvels at the lessons he learns from his little ones.  Here is one recent situation that vividly illustrates how obstacles are in fact stepping stones to something bigger and better.

We are blessed enough to have a 21-month old and all the experiences and learning that go with him. Everyday, as I watch him grow and discover the world, I realize he is teaching me just as much as he is taking in – and this has been going on since before he was born.

In our bedroom we have a tree that sits in a pot and the pot is just slightly shorter than our son. And months ago when he first discovered it, it was just as tall as him. The problem is he is fascinated with this tree. More specifically, he is fascinated with the taste of the dirt around the tree! Now, my wife and I thought it would be a great idea to place some sort of obstacle to prevent him from having access to the tree.

We looked around his massive stack of toys and found the perfect solution. We call it, “Toy Mountain.” It’s a plastic mountain that has ramps and such on it that is supposed to be used for little to cars to boot around. It was the perfect solution for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, it was large enough to block his access to the tree. Second, it was one of his more favorite toys at the time and it served as a great distraction to help him forget about the wonderful tasting dirt. Continue reading

Turn obstacles into opportunities

CherryPits“If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?” groaned a good friend.

“Why, what’s the matter?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m in a dead-end job going nowhere, and I just got passed over for yet another promotion.  I think it’s time for me to dust off my resume, sharpen my skills, and get the word out that I’m looking for a new challenge.”

It occurred to me that perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to feel like your life is in the pits.  You see, pits are really seeds, just with an outer stony covering.  And if things in your professional or personal environment get bad enough, it may just be exactly the motivation you need to break open that pit and expose the seed.  Once that seed is uncovered, the opportunities are endless.  With the right soil, moisture and nutrients, and just a little bit of care and concentration, the seed can grow into something new, healthy, vibrant and exciting.

As we kick off a new year, this is the perfect time to stop and consider what is getting in the way of you achieving your professional and personal goals.  Just like my friend is using his disappointment as his inspiration to get his dream job, this is also your perfect time to crack open your “pits” and use the seeds to grow your desired goals and dreams.

Get going!

A short history of the “Lobster”

As many of you know, my most popular keynote has and continues to be my flagship program Why Does the Lobster Cast Off Its Shell? In fact, this is also the name of my book, which went into 2nd edition printing last summer.  What many people don’t know though is that both the Why Does the Lobster Cast Off Its Shell? keynote and the book started life as a Monthly Mega Minute.

Every month since July 2002, as part of my commitment to offer leaders everywhere a quick and easy source for continuous growth and learning, I have written Merge’s Monthly Mega Minute, a bite-sized, yet substantial and practical, nugget of information that you can use immediately to enhance your professional and personal success.  Back in October 2002, I wrote the issue titled A life’s lesson from a lobster.  Later that year, the “Lobster” keynote took shape, and then in 2004 the first edition of the book was published.

Sometimes I enjoy a stroll down memory lane … if you’d like, you can read the original “Lobster” Mega Minute here.

A life’s lesson from a lobster

Attention: Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs)

If you are an Internationally Educated Professional (IEP), currently unemployed or not working in your chosen profession, then you ABSOLUTELY MUST attend the 7th Annual IEP Conference on Friday, January 29, 2010 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  This conference will give you an opportunity to network with and learn job searching skills from industry experts, employers, and successful IEPs.  Now in its 7th year, the IEP Conference is regarded as one of the most innovative and respectful events for skilled newcomers seeking practical, effective career advice.  Registration is FREE, but since this event traditionally attracts over 1200 delegates, you should avoid disappointment by registering early.  Lunch and refreshments are included!

I am honoured to be delivering the opening keynote that morning, so do stop by to say hello and introduce yourself.  And please, if you have friends or colleagues who could benefit from attending, let them know as well.

To register or get more information, go to