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Overcome Negative First Impressions to Locate and Gain Golden Advantages

by Donald Mitchell

Our senses are finely tuned to react positively to what we like and to what we are accustomed. We reject anything that looks, smells, tastes, feels, or sounds different than what we prefer. Our reactions can be so strong that we never consciously evaluate the pros and cons of what is being experienced. In an increasingly complex and diverse global environment, organizations run the danger of overlooking great opportunities right under their noses and in front of their eyes because the opportunities do not fit the conventional ideal. In reversing the usual knee-jerk approach, you can reap great rewards by carefully investigating the potential of what repels you and what you reject without conscious consideration.

First Impressions Can Be Deceiving

Most people can identify situations in which they dismissed an opportunity that someone else capitalized on later. Often these opportunities were overlooked or rejected because they were perceived as dull, boring, or unpleasant. You may recall the fairy tale of "The Ugly Duckling." It is the story of a cast-off baby bird that is mistreated because it is unattractive to the young ducklings raised with it. Much to everyone's surprise the ugly duckling matures to become a beautiful swan. Thus, what we call the unattractiveness stall prevents people from seeing potential because they make judgments based on insufficient knowledge.

As you contemplate this point, it is worth remembering that if Alexander Fleming had been unwilling to work with the unpleasant green mold that affects stale bread, the world might not yet have the wonder drug penicillin and its heirs.

The Taj Mahal

All too frequently, management becomes engrossed in creating posh office space. Having grown used to pleasant surroundings after having feathered their nests, executives avoid even more of the ugly duckling sites that need attention.

In many companies, distribution is one such ugly duckling. Trucks and loading docks excite few corporate chieftains. Yet Wal-Mart struck gold by focusing on fast deliveries through warehouses serving constellations of stores. As a result of its efficiency, Wal-Mart can offer lower prices and attract more value-seeking customers.

The Ivory Tower

Executives dislike dealing with customer complaints. In fact, very few top-level executives will talk with unhappy customers. Underlings deal with those problems. Fearing that the bearer of bad news may be punished, workers often sugarcoat customer unhappiness or badly conceal it.


Losses Are Uglier Than the Dumpster's Contents

One open-minded CEO ran a successful restaurant business. His success was due to starting his restaurant tours at the dumpster, one of the least attractive parts of any restaurant. The CEO could judge the restaurant's health by what the dumpster contained. Decaying raw food suggested overordering of supplies. Too much decaying cooked food meant that the kitchen was having problems. Occasionally, he even found carefully wrapped, fresh prime steaks ? indicating that employees were stealing food.


Packages that protect products are usually seen as necessary, but not important. Crafty Henry Ford thought otherwise. On recognizing that batteries for his cars came in solid wooden boxes, Ford specified the details of those boxes. After the battery was removed, workers took out the screws and used the wood as floorboards for his Model A.


ServiceMaster has made a good living by solving the ugliest, dirtiest and smelliest problems its customers have. Perhaps you can do the same.

Find Your Ugly Ducklings

Here are questions to help you find hidden opportunities:

• Where are the places that executives and managers seldom visit?

• What can be learned by investigating those unattractive places?

• Which potential customers are perpetually shunned?

• Which kinds of potential employees are never hired?

• Which suppliers are avoided?

• What services are avoided?

Turn Your Ugly Ducklings into Swans

• How can you use an open mind and thoughtful questions to learn more about these areas?

• Who already sees these ugly ducklings as attractive opportunities? Why?

• How could each of these ugly ducklings be one of your best opportunities?

• Who could help you to better see, hear, and feel these opportunities?

• How could you easily and inexpensively test out ideas related to the worth of these opportunities?


Copyright 2007 Donald W. Mitchell, All Rights Reserved

Donald Mitchell may be contacted at

Donald Mitchell is CEO of Mitchell and Company, a strategy and financial consulting firm in Weston, MA. He is coauthor of six books including The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook. You can find free tips for accomplishing 20 times more by registering at: =========> .


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