Hello Leader,

Last month I updated the Window of Opportunity (WOO) insight. We focused on the fact that opportunities appear inside defined and limited windows. How you respond to those windows determines your capacity to lead and shape outcomes.

This Key brings into focus a complementary idea that has helped some of my clients unlock the greatest potential of their opportunities. By adapting and applying this idea you will bring an advantageous urgency to your efforts.

We marvel at great achievements in all fields of life and endeavor. Consider all those that you find inspirational as you reflect on the following question: What is the most difficult feat in the world? By that I mean what is the most difficult challenge to overcome, the toughest conundrum to solve, the most elusive outcome to achieve?

Please take 12 seconds to write down your answer before you continue reading. What is the most difficult feat in the world?

The Most Difficult Feat in the World

Listen here: Episode 105 - The Most Difficult Feat in the World

Since I started presenting this query over two decades ago, thousands of people have responded with a wide variety of guesses. Here are some of the most common:

  • Be the best version of yourself
  • Become an astronaut
  • Win a Nobel Prize
  • Write a best-selling book
  • Win an Olympic gold medal
  • Be the best parent you can be
  • Win an election for public office
  • Become a billionaire
  • Quickly recover from setbacks - genuinely turn lemons into lemonade.
  • Become a truly leading authority in your field
  • Be genuinely happy
  • Maintain balance through the ups and downs of life
  • Live free of guilt and remorse
  • Become the Beatles
  • Become the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan

Though reasonable responses, they are narrowly framed and short-sighted. I am seeking a bigger, meta level reply, a formulation that is the foundation for many of these and other answers. In short, I am looking for the articulation of the unifying principle behind all great achievements.

The most difficult feat in the world is not getting rich, or being on stage performing, or even winning a Nobel Prize. Although these and other similar achievements require a lot of work, dedication, and determination, by themselves they are not the most difficult feat in the world.

The answer I am seeking is in some ways the inverse of the lethal jackpot. The “rule” defined by the lethal jackpot is a convergence pattern of several “edge of the envelope” conditions and irregularities that together develop into an inescapable, devastating crash.

When you examine any great hugely successful person – whether in business such as Jeff Bezos, in the arts such as the Beatles, or in sports such as Michael Jordan - the one unifying principle is that the most difficult feat in the world is to bring together three conditions: the right ingredients, the right place, and the right time.

The convergence of the right ingredients in the right place at the right time creates an opportunity window that may lead to a Nobel Prize, to fame, or possibly to great financial rewards.

There’s a reason why many great and worthy efforts have gone by the wayside and never received attention: while they successfully brought together one or two of the three conditions, the necessary trifecta eluded them. The stories of life and of business are replete with examples of people who assembled the right ingredients in the right place, only to find they were too early or too late. Or they arrived at a destination at the right time, only to discover it was not the right place after all.

People frequently show up in the right place and at the right time without the right ingredients to leverage their opportunity. Thus, the most difficult challenge to overcome is to bring all three elements together. Many of those who have been successful in meeting this challenge have been rewarded by spectacular success. For example, because John, Paul, George, and Ringo were in the right place at the right time and together brought the right ingredients, they became the Beatles. Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, and Katie Ledecky each showed up at the right time, in the right place, ready to deliver breakthrough results in their respective sports.

If you analyze deeply great successes in any arena—business, the arts, sports, personal relationships— you will find the synchronization of these three factors.

Considering the convergence of these three factors—right place, right time, right ingredients—makes it obvious that not all three are always within your control. In fact, one or more of them may be, or seem to be, out of your control at any given moment. To work through that challenge successfully requires dedicated effort and focus.

To master your windows of opportunity, be ready so that when they present themselves – that is when luck, serendipity or the universe decides to smile upon you - you are prepared with the right stuff in the right place at the right time.

Now it’s your turn. Turn the key. Where are you endeavoring to bring together the right ingredients, the right place, and the right time? What are those ingredients? Consider the creativity and talent this opportunity requires. Reflect on the dedication, love, care, forbearance, courage, and resilience this effort needs. It is not perfection you are after. Rather, it is the convergence of the three elements that will enable you to create a new future by expressing the true potential of the project you are working on or by finding a solution for a tough challenge. 

© Aviv Shahar