Feed the Opportunities, Starve the Problems

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Life is short, the game is often fast, and each of us makes choices daily about the things we should devote time and attention to. I try to live by a simple, six word motto that tends to keep me focused on higher yielding activities… Feed the Opportunities, Starve the Problems.

Its meaning to me is that, given a choice, I feel that my time, talents, and resources are better spent on endeavors that hold upside potential. Some of those endeavors (projects, ideas, relationships) are commercially oriented while others are not. The motto is resident in both the business and personal sectors of my life, assuming that it’s still possible to differentiate between the two.

As for the ‘problems’ part of the equation, to me, they are like weeds in the lawn. You should neither ignore them, nor make them the beneficiary of a lot of time and attention. My preference is to poison them or pluck them. I certainly don’t want to fertilize, water, or do anything to encourage them. Problems that threaten the mission or priorities should be dispatched on sight, or, as my old FedEx boss, Jim Barksdale put it, “When you see a snake, kill it.”

As with a trout facing upstream to feed from passing bugs and other morsels, the workplace (and life in general) present us a never ending flow of things to chew on. And, like the wily old trout that has learned to be very selective in what she eats, the manager must also discern which of the items in their flow represents a viable meal, versus something that has ‘hooks’ in it, isn’t worth the effort to chase it down, or is simply too big to swallow.

As managers, we are well advised to be ever mindful of our mission and priorities when deciding what to devote our time and attention to. Our first choice should nearly always be to deal with those things, be they problems or opportunities, that pertain to our mission and priorities. Again, if a “problem” threatens the mission, let’s snuff it out. After that, in my own case, my personal bias is toward focusing on the opportunities, be they big or small, and quickly ascertaining if I can add value to or capitalize from them. If so, I’m likely to give them a go.

For better or worse, this motto holds true in my choice of relationships, too. My wife calls it arrogant, and there’s probably some truth in that assessment, but to put it bluntly, I’m not interested in “projects” per se. As an example, I would much rather mentor and/or support a person who is working hard at succeeding in life and who deserves a break, than someone whose ox is chronically in the ditch chiefly because of their own lack of effort or focus.

Having benefited from the kindness of strangers throughout my life, I derive real delight from quietly “paying it forward” for someone who deserves a break. And this season presents some wonderful opportunities to do just that. So, in that vein, I’ve got some errands to run. I’ll see you on the other side of the holiday.

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