For Everyday Leaders Opportunity Knocks in the Darkness


As the New Year approaches, so does opportunity. It might be hard to see amidst the layoffs and foreclosures. Maybe you read as I did that newspapers are laying people off in big numbers. After criticizing so many others for not facing change, it seems the newspapers haven’t done so well with it either.

I was talking to an exec who recently took a buyout and I asked him, “Knowing what you know now, what do you think your paper should have done fifteen years ago?” He said, “R & D.” He said that putting out a new product – which is what a paper is – every 24 hours makes it very hard to look outside the immediate demands of the business. He said they would spend six months redesigning a section of the paper, but almost no comparable energy thinking about the new information technology. What a missed opportunity! Look what they had: Smart people; great writers, who had loyal followers; the ability to freely advertise and drive traffic to electronic sites; advertisers aplenty; yet they were stuck in their identity: we are newsPAPERS, after all. In internal conversations they frequently saw the internet as a threat to them instead of as an enormous opportunity, and now they’re desperately scrambling to catch up.

What if they had steered right into what they had long recognized as a threat? What if they set aside brainpower, time, and money to seize OPPORTUNITY outside their paper world? Imagine where they might be, if they had looked for what are sometimes called “disruptive technologies” – ideas or products that don’t fit the core business strategy but have real promise in another domain.

If you want to be an everyday leader: adopt the mindset that there ARE always opportunities. Yes things are tough now. But you can buy things – stocks (I bought 100 shares of Ford for my kids – and out of love for the company and my state – for $160 dollars last week); cars, inventory, brainpower, real estate are all at prices you could not have imagined even six months ago. I hear you say, “Mulhern, have you heard there’s a recession out there? Duh! Nice that you have money.” Well, if your brain went to that as quickly as I suspect it did, then you’re doing the natural, but not so helpful thing, of focusing on scarcity and not on opportunity and abundance. In every ebb and flow there is opportunity.

Consider these:

  • The hearings in DC created an opportunity for the Big 3 to begin to get at the incredibly wrong-headed myths that so many Americans have about their vehicles.
  • Opportunities exist that flow from our changing demographics, e.g., serving aging populations.
  • There are new technologies every day that open whole new possibilities (for example, are you hating LinkedIn messages, or setting aside some time to understand what LinkedIn could do for you?).
  • Via the internet, you can sell stuff to people around the world, e.g., through eBay or in your own backyard, through Craig’s list or those local papers.
  • Even an adult child moving back in out of economic necessity creates opportunities: for family relationships, shared work burdens, the synergy that comes with diversity.
  • Even our tight holiday budgets give us opportunities: to set priorities, to appreciate the priceless things at the heart of the holidays, or to turn our office holiday parties into parties of thanks, with donations to those in need. Tough times tighten human bonds.

As you look ahead, fight the doom and gloom, and seek for opportunities that lead to economic, social, and spiritual growth. Especially in seemingly terrible times . . .

Lead with your best self,



  • I noticed that you recently purchased Ford stock. My wife and I recently purchased stock in both GM and Ford (equal investments). They will learn, they will recover, and the United States will benefit because of their recovery.

    Larry Beckon, MDOT

  • Dan,
    Thanks so much for a refreshing reminder to keep abundance and hope foremost in our minds, as opposed to scarcity and helplessness. Bending difficult circumstances to result in the best possible outcome requires creativity and energy. Thank you for your message of looking for the opportunity in every challenge.

    Terry Bobzien,
    Pittsford, Hillsdale County, MI

  • Love the “abundance / scarcity” reference Dan…It’s our thinking that makes it so, right.

    I know for me, that when my focus is on “how can I help?” whether it be for my family, neighbors or customers, I bring abundance into my life. When my focus strays to “how can I get?” scarcity eeks in.

    This paradigmatic shift – scarcity to abundance – occurs (for me) only when I import GRATITUDE in my daily living.

    It’d be interesting to know if the automotive and financial services industries utilize this concept of gratitude in their shareholder and executive leadership meetings?!

  • Dan – Just a friendly reminder. Out of the economic stress we all feel comes a great opportunity. Don’t feel blue and depressed when you can’t afford a Spring Break trip South to Florida, Alabama, Mexico or the Caribbean next Spring. LOOK FORWARD TO EXPLORING MICHIGAN! There is a wealth of exciting venues awaiting. From Detroit and the Science Museum to kayaking along the Great Waters in the eastern U.P. Culture, History, birding, hiking, biking, fishing and world-class golf at deep discounts abound close to home. Shopping sales are common, including lodging. Of course, a special event is the CHEF’S CHALLENGE for CHALLENGE MOUNTAIN in late April at Shanty Creek. It has everything, including The Culinary Event of the Year showcasing Michigan Ag products.
    There’s so much to see and do, you’ll wish Spring would never end in Michigan. Don’t sweat the cost – There’s something affordable for everyone.

    Joe Breidenstein
    Walloon Lake, Mi.

  • Dan,

    I look forward to your dose of optimism each week. Thanks.

    To me, one of the classic examples of a company not managing change is Eastman Kodak. After being a leader in film-based photography since the late 1800’s, EK was very slow in recognizing the move to digital photography. EK has still managed to stay in business … after many job losses. However, its stock has dropped from the $30 range in early 2007 to about $7 now. I hope they make it.

    Likewise, being somewhat of a “car guy,” I still remember companies like Studebaker, Packard, and American Motors that couldn’t make it. However, the impact of one of the current Big Three failing would be enormous, and could actually threaten the existence of an American automotive presence. And it’s ironic that the Big Three are now making cars safer, and on a quality and fuel economy par with any non-domestic manufacturer. The 2010 Fusion hybrid, for example, is expected to exceed Camry hybrid’s mileage by 6 mpg. It’s also ironic that the sheer quality of the Big Three cars has contributed to their problems … our family has driven a number of American autos for 10 years or more, without any major problem. It’s hard to justify purchasing a new vehicle when the one in my garage works so well.

    • Tony,
      9 of 10 Michiganians would be shocked at the Fusion – Camry comparison. We ALL have everyday leadership work to do to wake up the rest of the country on the progress made (so far) by the Big 3.
      The Kodak example is a good one, too.
      Thanks for reading with your best self!

  • Dan, thanks for focusing on the opportunity side of the equation. As an individual who is coming up on a second anniversary of self-employment, I have experienced the power of opportunity more than once. I have gone through layoffs, mergers and “mission sizing”. Each one was laced with opportunities that were only available when sought. While others languished in pain, some saw an opening. The “mission sizing” led to a new business that has survived the past 2 years, and looking for opportunities in the next. It is optimism that will see us through the next few years.
    Thanks for your words,
    Dave Vermilye, Grand Rapids

  • Good points, Dan! Your discussion of the newspaper industry reminded me of Kodak. They make film for cameras, but seeing where every day photography was going, they decided to get into digital cameras and printers. Don’t know how that’s going for them, but I see them advertised every week.

    But, your comment about the wrong-headed myths that Americans have about their vehicles reminded me of a (maybe rumor?)I heard about Allis-Chalmers many years ago. (I grew up on a farm.) Seems that management built what they felt the farmer needed, but it wasn’t what the farmer wanted. They didn’t do very well until they started listening to their customers.

    So, does the auto industry have to start trying to change their customers minds about what they want? That could be a big challenge, and yet I do wonder just how much of the consumers “needs” are based on what advertising tells them they need rather than what they really need.

  • Thanks Dan, for a great Monday morning pick me up. Times are a changin’ and we all need to adapt and use it as an opportunity to grow. I have found that to be so true, whether it’s moving the WA3 forward it new directions that are challenging the ways some of our communities think, and in my personal life with my own small biz I’m cultivating. I feel more alive and invigorated by the flurry of new ideas and opportunities ahead. (Thanks for the Ford stock purchase too – my husband will thank you!)

    Heather Carmona

  • Hello Sir,

    I really get reenergized when I read your newsletter. My family is focusing on helping the needy this year, instead of dreading the shopping. Now we are getting excited about making a difference. My children are learning what is important in this life. Even though I know they feel a little disappointment in getting less, they will gain the priceless gift of self respect.

    Thank you for agreeing with me that spirituality and relationships must be the top priorities to be a successful leader (and parent).

  • Newspapers need content along with the technology. Many newspapers have lost the drive for quality content. Anyeone who follows government closely can see the errors and bias in all news media. With so much of televised new being stilted and turned into show business, newspapers have a solid opportunity to do what they do best of all the news media. Shows like the Dailey Show and The Colbert Report are really warnings to news shows, more so than being only comedy. I see these shows as parodies of what many televised news shows have become. The news host on some news casts, is the show, and not his interviewees, nor the news.

    The $160 investment in Ford need not have been made out of any emotion, but it is a good bet as stock market investments go. If Ford goes down, not a lot is lost on your part, and if it goes up, it will go up a lot from where it was when you bought. The up side is enormous for both GM and Ford.

    Mark John Hunter – Alpena

    • Mark,
      Interesting comments about the Colberts and Stewarts. Scary that people were getting their “news” from them, just as it’s scary that people get their “news” from Rush or Hannity. But the question for papers is: will anyone read them? So, somehow, they have to deliver content in many ways to survive.
      (My investment has doubled in 10 days, but I hope my kids will see a much bigger gain as Ford fights through this and rolls out some great products.)

  • There is lots of great advice in your weekly letter. I look forward to reading it.

    This past weekend I worked at my local library, helping with a book sale. There were books, like new, for one or two dollars. I did some of my Holiday shopping while helping others with their selections. It was good for the library and very good for my wallet!

  • Hi Dan,

    You know, I’d be tempted to buy Ford stock if I had some indication that thinking has changed or might change in that organization. However, I have seen/heard nothing of the sort in all the “testimony” around the requested assistance package. I hear only the same old nonsense about cutting costs (“working for $1” – what utter nonsense). There has to be new thinking. Ford was once on such a path, when the thinking and teaching of Dr. Deming was part of their culture. Sadly, they have been ruled by short term vision for many, many years. In my view, they have failed to adapt, and have failed this country.

    Perhaps you could comment on the need for new thinking, for not continuing to do what we’ve always done while expecting different results. I believe this applies to the car companies, and I see no comprehension on their part. How wonderful it would be if government leaders also started to adopt new thinking. And not just when it comes to car companies.

    Best Wishes,

    Steve Byers
    In2:InThinking Network

  • I’ve enjoyed reading the comentary thus far.

    Too bad the governor of Illinois has not been reading this blog, or acting responsibly. He will have some time very soon though, to ponder such introspection like he’s never (obviously) done before.

    I hope and pray that Michigan is served better!! 🙂

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