You Miss 100% of the Shots You Don’t Take

The “big breaks” in our career often pass us by. Windows of opportunity come and go all the time, and circumstances dictate whether we take advantage of them or not....

An email from an unknown recruiter may lead to our dream job, but unless we are open to a change, we will never know. Moving to a different country could bring rich experiences, but without the right family circumstances, it is a move that few of us would contemplate. Just that little bit of extra effort in a project can make the difference between success and failure.

In my experience, intuition plays a key role in telling us when we should “step up to the plate.” If the little voice inside you is saying “you should be doing this,” ignore it at your peril.

Some of you may have read my blog post “Find Your 20 Seconds Of Insane Courage” about an email that I wrote to the CEO of the European Retailer Kingfisher (the parent company of B&Q), asking if they were going to enter the Russian market. It was a cheeky move, but somehow it worked out. I spoke Russian, had lived in Russia previously, and I was invited onto their market entry team….. that is when it really kicked off.

At the time, I was a Junior Buyer at B&Q. I had delivered some big projects, but nothing on this scale. After I had bluffed my way through a meeting with the International Director, I was invited onto the team to scope the commercial opportunity for the board paper. There were a lot of people who wanted to get involved in this project, but they had chosen some young upstart…. I was under a lot of pressure to prove that I could add value.

The risks for market entry were huge. At the time, hardly any western Retailers were involved in the country and for the number one European DIY Retailer, this was a big step. The opportunity had to make sense, and the numbers had to add up. I was put in charge of the Commercial P&L. I won’t go into detail, but there were so many “unknowns” at that point. Each assumption had to be fully quantified and reflected in the numbers.

I toiled over those spreadsheets. I came to love them. They were my mistress….. I hardly saw my wife over that first month. They were a beacon of hope for our future. If they pointed towards a profitable business, then our dream of moving to Russia would be one step closer (my wife was Russian). However, they had to be grounded in realism. I found that hard, but I made them as detailed as possible.

In the lead up to the Board Presentation, the Kingfisher international team went over the spreadsheets with a fine tooth comb. We refined them into a complex picture of opportunity. They were my masterpiece. Three days before the board meeting and they were finished. Cue a sigh of relief on my part. My destiny was once more in the hands of fate. I had done all I could.

Or so I thought….

That night we had our work Christmas party at B&Q (as I was still job sharing at that point). It was a pretty lavish affair and always a great laugh. I was in the local supermarket buying some mulled wine with a mate when my blood ran cold.

I realized that I had made a mistake in my calculations….

“Shit, shit, bugger, shit.” The old lady standing next to me was a little shocked as I swore loudly. I still had time to correct it and the slides for the board presentation would need to be changed, but I couldn’t see myself being able to do it with the inevitable post-party hangover. So, I grabbed my laptop and sat in my car making all the changes. It took me about three hours to do properly, and as I was typing the last words of my apologetic email to Kingfisher, I caught myself thinking:

“I wish I cared so much about everything in life.”

Here I was, sitting in my car filling out a spreadsheet while my colleagues were enjoying themselves. I have often thought about that night. Kingfisher would have no doubt gone to Russia in any case. The omission wasn’t so glaring, but if it had been noticed, then my credibility may have been damaged. I may not have been invited to be part of the opening team (it was probably a close call in any case as I was far from a “no brainer” appointment).

I was successful because I had a big break, and I made the most of it. I squeezed every ounce of possibility from what I was doing and thankfully it paid off. If things hadn’t worked out, I wouldn’t have had a single regret.

I caught the last hour of silly dancing and downed a few swift pints, safe in the knowledge that I had done everything that I could.

Everyone thought I was mad. Maybe they were right, but I had a dream....