Thinking Outside the Box

Some decades ago, I was sitting in a business class in University and I had a rather remarkable professor.  She approached the idea of business very differently than I was expecting.  She explained that as we (the students in the class) went out to compete for jobs, we would be against other people (and students) who would also have university degrees and bright shiny personalities.  But, some would have family connections and friends at companies they applied for.

In the past, if you were white and male, you had an advantage seeking a job over a woman or minority applicant.  While this is still the case in some places, this “advantage” for while males has waned.  And in some places, being a white male can actually be a disadvantage – especially with jobs that use affirmative action rules or impose quotas based on sex or ethnicity.

What to do?  If you are a white male applying to a company that wants a black applicant, or if you are a woman applying for a job where only men work or if you are African-American and you are applying at a company where a bunch of old rednecks work, what do you do?

This professor explained that you must “think outside the box.”  She had long taught this to her children and after they graduated from college, her son Michael had a chance to do just that.  He was a new employee at a large global company – it was foreign owned.  It was announced that the president of the company would fly in on Sunday and would spend a week visiting the Los Angeles offices beginning on Monday.

Michael nosed around a bit and found out when the president would arrive and waited at the airport for his arrival.  When the president and his family came out of the gate, Michael approached, introduced himself and then assisted loading the baggage into the waiting car.  Michael followed the president and his family to the hotel and helped off load the luggage and assisted in getting the president checked into his room.  He took out his business card and a pen and wrote his personal cell phone number on the back and presented it to the president and told him that if he needed anything at all, 24/7, he could call on Michael for assistance.  He made himself available to the president each day outside of his work hours to assist in obtaining opera tickets, in organizing a tour to Disneyland the following Saturday and to help take the President’s wife and family shopping at the galleria.

The president had assumed that the company had sent Michael to assist.  Imagine his surprise when he found out that Michael had taken the initiative to help on his own.  The president was very impressed and remembered him later when he began a new project in Los Angeles.  Michael’s prospects within the company soared.  He was really no different than any of the other new employees in the company.  He just took the initiative to do something different, something special: he thought outside the box.

I subscribe to an investment letter at Stansberry Financial.  This subscription has made me a lot of money and I recommend it (nothing in it for me, check it out if you like).  This week I received an email from the president of this newsletter company and he described how he thinks outside the box and how it has helped him.  I quote his message in full, as I received it:

You’re so lucky Steve… you’ve gotten to meet and work with all these famous guys…” 

When I hear that, I usually say something like, “Yeah, it’s hard to believe… I have been pretty fortunate!” and I leave it at that.

But the truth is much different… It’s NOT luck. It’s NOT good fortune.

There’s a secret to doing what I’ve done. And I will share it with you today…

Maybe there is a bit of “luck” involved… But it didn’t happen without me putting myself in luck’s “line of fire.” Let me give you an example of what I mean…

A while back, I knew I was going to have the chance to shake hands with one of my heroes.

When I met him, I could have just said, “Uh, gee, it’s nice to meet you. I’m a big fan.” But that would have been a missed opportunity.

Instead, I spent a few days thinking before I met him… I came up with a plan to make an impact – to give him a chance to want to get to know me…

I got out a 3×5 notecard. And I wrote out what I called “12 Ways to Take Over Your Industry.” I included my name, phone number, and e-mail address. When I shook his hand, I smiled and I handed him the card. And that was that…

He could have easily thrown the card away. He could have thought, “Who is this joker?” He could have taken my suggestions… but still never bothered contacting me. For any number of reasons, he could have ignored me.

Instead, he reached out to me… In the end, he tried all of my dozen ideas, except one. Now, when he wants a second opinion on something (from outside of his corporate “yes” men), he sends me an e-mail or gives me a call. And he has included me in events around the world and in his decisions that I’ve been grateful and flattered to be a part of.

The best part to me is that I can call a hero of mine a friend as well.

That didn’t happen because I’m “lucky.” It happened because of this simple secret. There are two parts to it:

1.   Whenever there is any moment – any crack in the door to put your foot in to meet your hero – you must shove your foot in… and not let it out.


2.   You must find a way to give a big benefit to your hero without asking anything in return.

Then you’re off… At that point, you have done your best to kick off a potential legitimate friendship.

I have often had to create these moments. Usually, they don’t just happen.

For example, this year, I ended up on the phone with another hero of mine. He said: “Next time you’re in Nashville, give me a call and we can get together.” Look, I’m NEVER in Nashville… but I went to Nashville that week. (I re-routed a flight to have a long layover there.)

I made it happen when the opportunity was there. And it was a fantastic few hours. Another hero of mine is now a friend of mine, too.

Most of the time, it doesn’t work out this way. But it’s 100% worth trying… Your downside risk is a little “wasted” effort. Your upside is a legitimate friendship with one of your heroes. That’s worth it to me!

You can do it. You have to get creative to create the opportunity. You have to offer something that benefits your hero. And you have to do it without asking anything in return.

You have to create your “luck.”

It has worked for me. I have been able to get close to many of my heroes – both in business and in my hobbies. And I believe it can work for you, too…

How cool is it to have your heroes as your friends? Just follow these tips, figure out your opportunity, and go for it… you can do it…



Since I cracked the million dollar ceiling, I’ve heard from a few colleagues, “You’re so lucky.”  I scoff: it wasn’t luck at all, it was hard work.  Well, actually, there was a little luck involved, but not the kind that they were thinking of.

Edison wrote, “Luck is when preparation meets with opportunity.”

I prepared, and eventually when opportunity came, I was ready.  Every day, I see people who miss opportunity because they aren’t ready.  These people really are “unlucky.”  And I guess I am quite lucky.  Funny how that works, luck favors some more than others…

The job that I have now pays well into six figures.  This job, and maintaining a modest lifestyle has allowed me to save and invest and eventually accumulate a seven figure bank account.  But this job was no accident.  I wrote down a goal, I focused on the kind of job I wanted and then I began to network.  The job that I have now, I began applying for it 3 years before I was hired.  I went and obtained all of the training and certifications I needed and then I applied.  No call back, no interview, silence.  I applied again and again.  Every two weeks I sent my resume and I called.  Nothing.  No call backs, no emails, nothing.

One day, I was at the airport and some random guy asked me if I knew my way to a particular hotel.  I told him that I was going there and offered to share a cab.  He was quite thankful and we shook hands, exchanged names and began talking.  He asked about my work and was impressed that I was managing over 200 people.  I asked about his work and it turns out that he was a manager at the company that I was applying to.  I told him that I had submitted my resume twice a month for the past three years.  He asked me to email it to him.  I did and he walked it in to HR and I was hired right away.

Was I lucky I got that job?  Maybe I was lucky that I met this man.  But if I didn’t have the certifications for the job, if I had not applied, if I had not asked about his work (something you always do when you are networking) I would not have been so “lucky.”

Think about this.  Are you stuck in your job in your company?  Do you want a promotion but can’t find a way?  Start thinking of ways to distinguish yourself above your peers.  If you are looking to get hired at a new company, think of how you can stand out from the rest of the applicants.

We all have some advantages and disadvantages: you may be black or white, man or woman.  There is nothing you can do about your gender or your skin color.  What you can do something about is your actions, your attitude and how you distinguish yourself.  There will always be discrimination, don’t let it stop you from reaching your potential.  Think outside the box and bypass the hurdles that you encounter in life.

Good luck!

The use of copyrighted material in this website is protected by the Fair Use Clause of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, which allows for the sharing of copyrighted materials for the purposes of commentary, criticism and education.  All shared material will be attributed to its owner and a link provided when available.  All other comment on this site may be reproduced with the author’s consent.  Please source any references or quotes of this website to: