The four pillars of seeing opportunities in problems
Standing on the football field in the fall of 2011, hours before a Baltimore Ravens game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I reached out to shake the hand of former NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol and introduced myself. “Nice to meet you. I’m Gerry Sandusky.” He snatched his hand back, a flinch reflex as if my hand were on fire. Before I could say, “Gerry with a G, no relation to the former Penn State coach,” Ebersol had disappeared into a nearby crowd of people, a safe distance from the awkwardness caused by the sound of my name, an identical sounding name as a convicted child molester. Problem.
Several months later, I stood along the rail at Belmont Park racetrack in the middle of a dozen reporters preparing to do live TV reports. Holding the microphone in my right hand I stared into the TV camera and delivered a live-tease to an upcoming story. “Triple Crown hopes arrive at Belmont. I’m Gerry Sandusky. That story, next.” I could feel the other reporters gawking at me. A conspicuous silence hung along the track rail. Problem.
A year later, I took my family on a trip to Manhattan. At the check-in counter, the agent asked my name. When I told him, his eyes unlocked from mine and scanned the room. He later admitted his instincts led him to look for police. Problem.
The sound of my name has caused plenty of problems. Still does. But it has also given me something marketing experts call “stickiness.” People remember my name. It catches people’s attention. It may have led you to read this article. Opportunity.
Look at the word “opportunity” and focus on the end of the word. The final five letters spell unity. My experience has taught me to believe in and look for the unity between problems and opportunities—even if it takes a little while for the opportunity to present itself. I call that probortunity thinking.
The inventor of 3M’s Post-It Notes used probortunity thinking. In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver set out to create a super glue to improve the adhesive used on 3M tape products. Instead, he ran into the problem of developing an adhesive that worked on paper only until someone pulled on the paper. The problem of an adhesive that didn’t quite work evolved into the opportunity to create a product that has filled office cubicles ever since.
The nature of the problem of my name changed dramatically once I saw the opportunities it could lead to. Along the way, I discovered four pillars that will support anyone’s search for opportunities in the realm of problems.
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