We all wait for taxis in the rain: seizing opportunities requires an open mind
Where does learning happen? We find that most people think of school and university first. Online quickly joins the list and then work, friends, TV and radio. No doubt you have other ‘wheres’ in mind as well. The reality is that learning, as with any opportunity, can happen anywhere but we need to keep an open mind to take advantage.
I was once told a story that had a real impact on me, an anecdote that I try to keep in mind, especially at times when I least feel like doing so. It’s a tale that reminds me to keep an open mind, because you never know where an opportunity lies.
This is a simple story. It is of a man heading from London to the Far East for an important business meeting. There was a lot riding on the outcome of this initial meeting and so, naturally, the traveller had spent a considerable amount of time and effort getting himself prepared. His laptop was brimming with presentations and spreadsheets and his pitch was well rehearsed.
The flight was nearly 13 hours long and under his company rules, the businessman was allowed to fly business class. He was no stranger to long haul travel and enjoyed the comforts and perks available to anyone willing to spend the extra 350% on their ticket! To his mind there was one privilege that stood out amongst all others. Peace and quiet. The wider seats meant no-one elbowing you when they shifted position, the extra leg room meant you weren’t being squashed when the person in front leans back and most of all, the reduced number of people meant less background noise. He was happy to keep himself to himself and he expected others to extend that courtesy to him.
The cabin wasn’t particularly full on this flight so there was some sense of disappointment when another gentleman started stowing his laptop case overhead and settled himself into the adjoining window seat.
The sense of dismay turned to despair when the seemingly brash neighbour tried to en-gage him in conversation. ‘Oh no’, he thought, ’13 hours next to this guy.’ There was only one tactic that he knew in this situation, : he had to make it clear right away that he didn’t want to talk. It didn’t matter how rude he was, anything to stop the conversation and be left in peace.
13 hours later, after a somewhat sleep depriving turbulent flight, and the plane arrived and without a second glance our traveller disembarks, collects his luggage and heads for his hotel.
Later that day, feeling the effect of the lack of rest, he arrives at the offices where the meeting is to take place. A recollection of the conversation with his boss darts across his mind: yes, this was an expensive venture coming to Singapore for the meeting in the knowledge that he wouldn’t get any more than an hour of time. But he had convinced his boss of the value the relationship could yield and had assured him that he was well pre-pared and he felt that he was in a good position to win the business.
The glass lift swept him to the top floor, overlooking the city and the sea. A breathtaking vantage point. A short wait as the receptionist called through his arrival and then he was ushered into the boardroom.
As the boardroom door opened he leapt to his feet to introduce himself, smile beaming and pitch ready. What he didn’t expect was that the new entrant to the room was none other than his neighbour on the plane. The one he had, rudely, told he had no interest in talking to.
He had flown the best part of 7,000 miles for a one hour meeting. He got less than 10 minutes, almost all of which was spent telling him how he just had 13 hours of opportunity. Some simple polite conversation would have likely revealed that they were in the same business and that the connection might have been made. Closing the door so firmly had revealed a character trait that made him incompatible for the deal, despite the fact that the trait was only really a mask created by the feeling of superiority of flying in business.
The moral of the story is simply that we should never assume where an opportunity to learn will come from and that we should keep an open mind, to be willing to listen and to be happy to give new ideas or people the benefit of simple courtesy. You might never know what you miss otherwise.