Do you see life as a series of obligations to be me, or as full of opportunities to be enjoyed? The people who change the world around them rarely act from a sense of obligation. In fact, the most effective leaders act from a sense of incredible opportunity. For them, life and business are not about meeting obligations with the minimum of effort, or responding with stoic drudgery. Instead they succeed by finding opportunities where others see only obligations and enthusiastically engaging them head on.
It is easy to see business—and even life—as only obligation. Earlier in my career, I felt overwhelmed by my obligations. I was trying to build a business and take on a leadership role in my professional association at the same time. I was so busy I reached a point where I didn’t want to answer the phone when it rang.
So I decided to reframe my obligations as opportunities. I even put a sign on my desk that reads, “Obligation or Opportunity.” Now when the phone rings, I see each call as an opportunity to serve, earn, learn, influence, network, encourage, or teach. The difference isn’t in the caller or the purpose of the call; the difference is in my outlook and how I frame the situation.
I saw a perfect example of the “Obligation or Opportunity” outlook in a corporate profile of YouTube I read recently. The profile explains that the success of the social media site came mostly from users posting clips from movies, songs, videos, and TV shows and viewers watching those clips. The problem was that much of the material was copyrighted. As YouTube became wildly popular, it was faced with lawsuits and complaints from copyright holders.
YouTube, owned by Google since 2006, was faced with an obligation. They had to remove the copyrighted material that drove most of the traffic on their site – which would drive away users and viewers. But instead, they viewed the problem as an opportunity. They developed a program, called ContentID that notifies copyright holders as soon as a user posts protected content. The program gives copyright holders the chance to remove the material if they want to, but it also offers them a deal: the option to keep the material on YouTube and split the revenue from any ads that run alongside it. In addition, it offers copyright owners the opportunity to use YouTube videos for promotional purposes.
Today, ContentID accounts for a third of YouTube’s revenue. And in 2010, a judge ruled that ContentID sufficiently addressed YouTube’s copyright problems. YouTube is now the third most popular website in the world, right behind Google and Facebook. And, for the first time in its history, the social media giant is set to turn a profit for its Google parent.
Seeing opportunities where others see only obligations begins with a change in your outlook. But it’s a change in outlook that can open the potential for success in situations that always just seemed like chores or duties. Just ask YouTube. So the next time the phone rings, think “opportunity” and you’re much more likely to find one when you answer.