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Seizing Hidden Opportunity

by Robbie Dellow
docklands hidden opportunity

Sometimes you have to be creative in your thinking, and actions, to take advantage of a hidden opportunity that others can’t see or even contemplate. This No Rule Book story covers an important chapter in my life that opened a whole new career for me.

It’s the 1990’s in the fast paced city of London, and I have just landed my very first lucrative, but equally tough, short term IT contract in the city’s upscale Canary Wharf banking area. It is for a very defined 3 months and covers preset tasks to complete each day. The boss is a great guy and. whilst understanding the limited skillset I bring, has full confidence in my undertaking the workload he has set for me to perform each day. He explains that whenever each days tasks have been completed I will be free to finish for the day.

But I already had other plans.

I intended to work here longer than the 3 months. The pay was phenomenal, and it was in British pounds. That meant that whatever I earned was multiplied by a factor of 3 when I send it back to my native New Zealand. My brain was already racing with ideas as to how I could possibly make these good times roll on longer.

And so, for the first few days I concentrated on becoming more confident with what was required from me, to the point that I can easily, and competently, complete everything required by lunchtime. As my boss had outlined, I was now free to leave the workplace. Sure I could go off, explore London, go to the pub, or laze in front of the TV at my central apartment. But I had other ideas – ‘Carp Diem’ – Seize the day!

Garry, my best friend from New Zealand, had a couple of years earlier, flown to London and landed a contract at the same  investment bank. He was practically the leader of the IT group –  An IT guru of the nth degree. He had now kindly vouched for me to get me ‘in the door’, and suddenly now we were workmates. I felt pressure to not let him down by performing mediocre. I knew I would have to work hard to prove myself, so  my ‘home time’ was spent at the bank. I learned like I had never learned. Whenever Garry was free I would ask him to show me this/show me that. I absorbed much much more information and processes about the workings within our department than I was employed to do, and I soon found myself running around the trading floors, and to developers desks, fixing any IT issues they had that was within the scope of our department. And then, just like that, my 3 months had flown by and I was at the local pub having leaving drinks with some of the banking people I had met. My boss was noticeably absent.

‘What are you going to do now? ‘Where are you going to travel to?’ Even Garry was curious what I intended to do.

But a very strange thing had happened on my last day. My boss, or any of the management team for that matter, had never actually said goodbye to me.

‘I’m turning up to work on Monday, and I’ll see what happens.’ I stated.

Everyone that was having ‘Leaving’ drinks with me that afternoon, replied simultaneously, ‘You can’t do that.’

‘Why not?”

Deafening silence.  With that, my plan had just firmed.

So come Monday morning, dressed in my business suit, I nervously walked, with a very bemused Garry, through the turnstiles at the bank. My building security-access card had worked. I was in the building! Next, I tried logging into my workstation. No problems there. I was back at work.

Fast forward 3 months and I was absorbing so much new information to add to my rapidly growing skillset. The contribution I was making to the team I worked with was expanding, but still I felt there could easily be resentment within the ranks as I was still very junior in skills, but highly paid. There had to be a way to balance things out to feel my presence was required by all.

There was a way.

See, every weekend, 2 volunteers had to work all day Saturday on rather mundane trading floor work. Nobody wanted to raise their hands on the Friday, so the boss would choose two hapless staff. But, I started to raise my hand for every Saturday, so he then had to only choose one person. I ‘volunteered’ something like 48 of the 52 Saturdays in the year I worked at the bank. It was exhausting working 6 days a week, continuously, whilst also juggling a crazy London social life. But I didn’t die. I managed it and by the end of my actual final day, one whole year later, I had a totally new marketable skillset and lucrative career.

In this true story, I created two ‘opportunities’ where I looked at two problems a different way to most people. But for both situations, the aim was the same – To try to extend the opportunity I presently had. I knew this opportunity could lead to bigger things for me, but it meant hard work, lots of learning, and also ensuring no animosity in the ranks. This new career would eventually take me to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney, where I worked in some of the world’s top investment banks, whilst also becoming very familiar with these fabulous cities. Plus I also built up great relationships with lifelong friends who were also living there as ex-pats.

Hidden opportunities have even resulted in some of the famous companies of today :

  • Wrigley’s, the chewing gum company, started selling soaps, then pivoted to selling baking powder offering extra incentives such as 2 packets of chewing gum. It was only by noticing that the gum incentives were wildly popular that it caused William Wrigley to step back, think, and then pivot to concentrate on selling chewing gum products.
  • Play-Doh, the children’s modelling clay, was first sold, in the 1930’s, to remove coal residue from wallpaper. It was only when the company’s management heard of a teacher selling the clay in her arts and crafts classes did they realise they might be onto something big.
  • Instagram originally started out as a check-in application called Burbn. Equally amazing, it was only started as a side project to help teach one of the founders to learn to code. It was only when the founders realised that the most commonly used feature was the photo-sharing function, did they streamline the app and rename it Instagram, eventually selling it to Facebook for $1 billion.

Opportunities are all around us , and they can sometimes appear right under your nose.  An adaptable and creative mindset is sometimes required to realise this, so you can seize the day.

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