“Opportunity Is Always Knocking” – A Conversation with Alan Weiss

I have recently interviewed Alan Weiss for his Thought Leader series. Here are a few golden nuggets Alan framed in this robust conversation:

Strategy and serendipity:

I asked Alan, how do you come up with your best ideas?
“Strategy is about being agile and nimble and light enough on your feet to take advantage of serendipity. If you look at the tried and true inventors like Edison, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Curie or Pasteur, any of these great minds in history, they did not single mindedly pursue something until they found it. They often found it by accident or they found it on the twelfth or the twentieth try. In our lives and in our businesses, it’s the same. Opportunity is always knocking but we don’t always hear the sound. It’s the recognition of a potential leap forward that really separates the all stars from the people that are just good.”


How did you discover the power of Reframing?
“I was really an outstanding schoolyard athlete. We used to play touch football on the streets. We went to these other kids’ neighborhood one day and they had this play design. Now our team was good, but they had this play design where someone would run the ball to the street between the cars and you couldn’t defend it because the cars were in the way. And we lost, which was rare for us. And I realized if you play on the other guys’ property, with their equipment and by their rules, you lose the game. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. And so later on when I reflected back on that, I realized you had to put people in your game, or reframe it so you were in a frame that you were comfortable with. And that’s what I began to do it. If somebody said to me “Oh, we have a very specialized need here to develop this skill in people, I would say all right. But it sounds to me as though what you’re saying is that you don’t have adequate success is planning here or you’re scrambling at the moment – is that right? And that’s how I reframe things so that I can put them into a context where the need is really met through my competencies.”

Intellectual firepower:
How do you come up with your insights?
“Almost always when I’m doing something, except when I want to lose myself in something, I’m thinking on three or four different levels. I’m thinking about the task at hand, I’m thinking about the process that is going on, I’m thinking about what other people think of it, I’m thinking about how I can improve it, I’m thinking at all these different levels which I can do simultaneously. And out of that multiplicity come insights…. I can do it… because, I don’t feel that the task at hand is life and death or earthshaking. Consequently I allow myself the latitude of looking at it in different ways. I’ve been in meetings with clients trying to decide whether to go forward on a six figure project and I find myself, while I’m interacting with the client, wondering if his wife helped him dress or not that day because of something he’s wearing that doesn’t make any sense. I’m always thinking on these different levels because, you know, worse case I get thrown out. There have been times when I’ve actually forgotten or not heard what was going on in front of me because I was engaged on these different levels. And I’ll say something, like I’m sorry but could you repeat that because I have two interpretations of what you’ve just said. I’ll say something like that because I’ve lost track of where we are. It happens all the time.”

Find a Mentor

What advice would you give to a young person just starting and hoping to have their own business?
“Become an apprentice, find a mentor, find someone you respect to help you avoid the mistakes the rest of us have made. That will shorten the learning cycle, and never, ever stop learning. Never stop experimenting, never stop taking on challenges, and always stretch yourself. Try for things you’re not sure you can do, if you fail in the attempt, you’ll still be better off.”

© Aviv Shahar

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