By Mark E. Smith
A gracious colleague noted that I’m very skilled in business at seeing the positives and negatives in situations, and then pragmatically steering both toward the positive.
I replied, “That’s not a business skill, that’s a life skill that I’ve learned from disability experience, where if I didn’t know how to work with adversity, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
In 1993, when Britain’s James Dyson introduced his first vacuum, it had a clear dust-collection canister of great controversy. Vacuums had always had bags, and the vacuum industry all said no one would want to see the dirt they vacuumed up in a clear canister. It was a totally valid point, proven by market research. Dyson had two choices: he could avoid the potential market controversy by enclosing the canister or he could see it as a counter-intuitive selling feature.
In among the most brilliant moves in business history, Dyson saw the controversial clear canister not as a detriment, but as an advantage. He wasn’t deterred by the market research, but embraced it proving his vacuum was unique. He used the clear canister to show consumers how his vacuum’s cyclonic action picked up more dirt than other vacuums – and consumers were mesmerized by it. People loved seeing how much gunk they vacuumed up! Within 18 months, it was the best-selling vacuum in the U.K., and today, virtually all vacuums have a clear canister.
So often when we face obstacles, we’re taught to work around them. However, working around obstacles rarely results in our greatest successes. Rather, working with obstacles is where success comes in. If you can succeed by addressing obstacles head on – like showing dirt in a vacuum canister instead of hiding it – that’s where ultimate success is found.
Many years ago, based on my disability, I couldn’t button buttons, so it was suggested that I have all of my clothing buttons replaced with Velcro. Velcro would work, except for one aspect – it wasn’t truly overcoming the obstacle, as I still couldn’t button buttons. I used thick, stiff wire and put a loop on one end, and discovered that by pushing it through a button hole, looping on to a button and pulling it back through, I could button buttons (other such tools are now sold). As a result, I could button any button. By addressing buttoning head-on, I solved it rather than avoiding it. Velcro was no solution; finding a way to button buttons was!
What I’ve learned is that life gives us obstacles no matter our circumstance, and we have the choice to use them as a deterrent or an opportunity. Maybe it’s based on my disability experience, business skill or smart-alecky tenacity, but when life presents me with obstacles, as it does all of us, I try my hardest to turn that canister of dirt into a pot of gold – obstacles into advantages, that is!