What If… People Focused on Opportunities?

I am renting out my house in Rotterdam to strangers. I rarely make use of it anyway. (And I have another home in Brussels too.) So why not let someone else enjoy my apartment?

Interestingly, this decision has led to some concerns from my friends:

  1. What if those strangers steal your stuff?
  2. What if they make copies of your keys?
  3. What if they use your phone to make expensive calls?
  4. What if they get access to your computer?
  5. What if… what if… what if…

Sure, these are good questions.

But I find it strange that I never got questions such as these:

  1. What if those strangers become good friends?
  2. What if they fix the broken lamps?
  3. What if they present an unexpected business opportunity?
  4. What if they keep the house safe from burglars?
  5. What if… what if… what if…

These are good questions too. But nobody considers them. Except me.

Here’s a fragment of my book, relating to this issue:

People often favor risk avoidance over opportunity seeking. They look at uncertainty as something that is more likely to have a negative outcome than a positive one. (Or they estimate the cost of potential problems to be greater than the benefit of positive outcomes.)

A good example is the often cited “threat” of non-native species being transported by humans from one ecosystem to another. Many environmentalists are actively trying to address this “threat.” But research has shown that only in a few percent of the cases non-native species had a significant and bad effect on existing ecosystems. In most other cases, the effects of “alien” species on native ecosystems were neutral, or even positive. [Davis, Mark. “Living with aliens.” NewScientist. 26 September 2009.]

I seem to be different from most people. I usually focus on opportunities first, and risks later. When I invite non-native entities into my ecosystem, my first thoughts are not about all kinds of dangers. Instead, I imagine interesting opportunities. And for good reasons.

For example, within an hour after I invited my first guest into my house, it turns out he might have a new employment opportunity for my housekeeper.

Somehow, I was not surprised.

(Jurgen Appelo is author of Management 3.0, a best-selling management book for Agile developers. It has a picture of a monster in it.)

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