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What the movie ‘Sliding Doors’ taught me about business?

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One of my most crucial memories is playing volleyball at my local gym with my friends. While playing, I looked over my shoulder at the door across the street from the gym, just as a beautiful young woman walked through the doors. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to talk to her.

That was in 1992. In a few months we will be married for 30 years.

I often wonder what would have happened if I had stayed home that day? What if I was too preoccupied with the game and not looking over my shoulder?

A few years later, the movie Sliding doors premiere in theaters. In this film, the main character experiences two different trajectories based on whether she catches the train home or not. In one, she catches up with the train, discovers her fiancé is cheating on her, and changes her life for the better. In the other, she misses her train by a split second, doesn’t catch her betrothed with his mistress, and her life just keeps getting worse.

In the film, it is easy to identify the point that catalyzed monumental shifts in her life. All too often we are unaware of these moments and they slip away without us noticing. This made me wonder how we can pay more attention to our day-to-day business choices and identify these life-changing moments as they are still happening — before opportunities slip out of our grasp or problems spiral out of control. The more we can think about the possibilities within each choice, the better we prepare for (and possibly avoid some of) the ups and downs that come with business.

People often say, “Afterwards is 20/20.” The problem is that if we just look back, we may miss out on life-changing opportunities or fall into the trap we could have avoided otherwise. How can we identify our “sliding door” moments before it’s too late?

Related: 10 Entrepreneurial Lessons From Movie: ‘Miracle’

Lead with creativity and curiosity

Creativity and curiosity are essential to build a sustainable company, so that you think along about solutions before problems arise and take advantage of opportunities that others may not see. People often say, “necessity is the mother of invention.” But we should not wait until necessity compels us to invent. We have to think creatively and proactively before the doors close, which takes us into a completely different trajectory.

In the early days of my company, one of our customers owed us a large sum of money and did not pay on time. I was willing to panic – if they didn’t pay us, we wouldn’t make the payroll, and plenty of other disasters would happen. However, I decided to take a chance and ask one of our largest customers to pay early. This moment completely changed our growth trajectory for the better, but being in such a vulnerable position made me think about how we could avoid getting there again. We started to wonder: what are other worst-case scenarios that we can avoid? What are the potential opportunities we might miss?

In business, we can’t wait for random events to force us to innovate or for serendipity to magically land us a lucrative new deal. Look to the future – what should you ask yourself before necessity becomes the mother of invention? Think about where you want your business to go and start looking ahead at the paths that will take you there and any bumps in the road that are hindering your progress.

Related: Proactive or Reactive: Which Mode Are You In?

Be proactive, not reactive

When we think about all the opportunities that are present at any moment, we become more proactive business leaders. This allows us to identify situations that may cause problems or be fruitful later on and adjust our plans accordingly. In addition, proactive companies are much better equipped to: deal with challenges than companies that are reactive.

An investor once asked, “What would happen if you lost your biggest customer?” At the time, we knew it would be bad, but this didn’t feel like an urgent question – we felt comfortable and our business grew. But my curiosity kicked in and we started to proactively consider this possibility. If we lost our largest customer, we would lose about 25% of our revenue and our business would suffer. Instead of waiting for this to happen, we created a system that diversified our income and customer base. Now our business is no longer dependent on a single customer, our growth is more stable and we are looking for more ways to innovate our processes. We could have waited for disaster to strike – until we lost our biggest customer and had to scramble to recover – but by being proactive, we avoided a potential crisis and our business is thriving.

We don’t have to accept the status quo – thumbs up and wait for the next disaster to force us into action. Be proactive and consider what simple changes you can make today that will help your business thrive in the future.

Related: Is Your Work Environment Allowing You To Thrive?

NB

As leaders, it is part of our job to anticipate the future. While we may not have magical powers to predict everything that will happen – when I walk into the gym that day I had no idea I would meet my wife – there are plenty of things in business we can anticipate, both big and small. The more we understand that these simple, everyday moments can make inordinate contributions to our trajectory, the more we will be able to control all the moving pieces.

Do not let yourself be rocked to sleep, so that the sliding door moments slip away unnoticed. Give each choice the attention and importance it demands and, perhaps most importantly, make sure you talk to that girl who just walked through the gym doors – you never know where you’ll end up in 30 years.

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