The following is an excerpt from the chapter “Gaps Are Opportunities,” in the life-changing book, Tomorrow’s Jobs Today, Wisdom and Career Advice from Thought Leaders in AI, Big Data, Blockchain, The Internet of Things, Privacy, and More available from John Hunt Publishing.
The Gaps are Opportunities strategy is rooted in a meditation on the importance of listening and observation and proves in short order wherever we look, especially in the weakest areas of a business, that there is always room for optimization. Those employees who seize upon and fix gaps in areas like production, risk, or quality assurance often become the most valuable players on the grid. They grow into the leaders that management loves to promote. Gaps and deficiencies in an existing program, a product, or a team can be the very best opportunities available to make your mark. History is chock-full of stories where a man or woman came along and “re-invented” a part of a wheel.
Secrets of the Scrap Metal King of Albuquerque
One of the most amusing success stories exemplifying this point comes from the first part of the twentieth century. It involves a weary soldier returning from World War I. As the story goes, the GI was tired but also thrilled to be alive after countless friends had been killed, and so much of the world he knew destroyed. He was discharged in California and put on a Pullman train packed with other vets traveling from San Francisco to the East Coast. Like his fellow soldiers, the young man enjoyed his share of spirits in the bar car, and by the time they crossed over into New Mexico, most of the train’s passengers were quite drunk. Naturally, overconsumption can lead to brawling, and that’s what occurred by early noon. He held his own for a while, but eventually, he was thrown from the caboose about 15 miles outside of Albuquerque. In those days, that was the middle of nowhere.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he only had enough money to buy himself a bus ticket to finish the last leg of the trip and maybe half a sandwich. Slightly drunk and out of luck, he began walking down the road parallel to the railroad towards town. As he sobered up along the path, he started noticing a lot of broken-down sedans, pickup trucks, and roadsters abandoned along the highway, likely having run out of gas. Remember, this was 1918, before GPS and call boxes, let alone gas stations… in the desert! Well, this young man thought a lot about those beat-up clunkers, and in between each one, as he made his way to civilization, he began thinking about what the vehicles represented. By the time he finally made it to town, he had come up with one hell of an idea.
Despite being parched and stinking to high heaven, he abandoned his plans to purchase a bus ticket and used what was left in his pocket to put a payment down on a tow truck. The next day he filled up the tank and set back along that road he’d traversed the afternoon before. Well, wouldn’t you know it? He picked up every darn one of those lonely jalopies and dragged them back to a lot he’d rented from the same lessor who extended him credit for the tow truck.
Less than a decade later that GI was the third-largest scrap metal salesman in the Southwest United States. By the time he died, about the richest man in Albuquerque. He never quite made it home to Boston, but he did learn first-hand about how your journey is often more enjoyable, and profitable than arriving at your destination.
So, what are your broken-down jalopies? What are the business processes, products, or teams you see broken down and in need of repair or improvement around your organization or community? How can you, like that GI, turn a real crap situation into one that benefits not just you, but ultimately the world around you? Can you identify the gaps in between the stops along the way to your goals? Are you ready to seize the day? Are you thrilled to be alive like that weary soldier the day he was thrown from the train?
Filling the Gaps with a Growth Mindset
You indeed can find and fill the gaps with a growth mindset that sees the positive in the negative, that builds from the ashes, that polishes and reinvents both tried and true and also invents the brand new. Are you in a highly regulated industry or a business that’s dependent on rules and best practices governing things like AI and Big Data? If so:
For some, that agenda might be too much work. But with that attitude, good luck getting called on to right the ship. After all, a bad attitude is like a flat tire. And as an old man I know from Albuquerque would tell you, you can’t get darn near anywhere with one of those.