When was the last time you saw something you didn’t understand, something that didn’t fit your expectations of how the world works?

What did you do about it?  Did you shrug it off, or did you take a closer look?

I’d like to tell you about Veronika Scott, founder of the Empowerment Plan. I heard her story at TEDxDetroit 2011, and it’s a story worth sharing.

Veronika saw something she didn’t understand: homeless people camping out in a deserted lot across the street from a shelter.  Why, she wondered, didn’t they use the facilities that the shelter provides?


The face of opportunity

Many of us would have shrugged it off and kept on walking.  Veronika didn’t.  She went to the shelter and talked with the staff, then spoke with some of the homeless inside the shelter to find out why this was happening.  As she learned more about the plight of the homeless, both physical and emotional, she realized she was in a position to help.  She was taking a college course in apparel design and decided to use her skills to develop a coat for the homeless that would give them greater comfort and independence.  The college course came and went, but her project took on a life of its own.  So she founded the Empowerment Plan, which employs homeless women to manufacture specially designed coats for distribution within Detroit’s homeless population.

It’s an inspiring story, for obvious reasons.  Veronika took the time to listen to a group that rarely has a voice, and found a way to follow her dreams while making a real difference in the community.  How rarely does that happen?

But it’s also an inspiring story for another reason: Veronika’s curiosity.  She did what many people wouldn’t have done in that situation – she asked a question instead of shrugging it off.  Had she kept on walking, the Empowerment Plan wouldn’t exist today.

THAT’s a lesson that we all need to be reminded of.  You’ve heard the saying that opportunity knocks but once.  Truth is, it rarely knocks at all.  Opportunity hides.  And it usually hides pretty darn well, often behind answers to questions that no one bothers to ask.

So what’s the fix?  Make curiosity part of your daily life.  When you see something you don’t understand, don’t shrug it off.  Ask why, and keep asking.

Maybe you’re getting more orders on Tuesdays than any other days.  Or unexpected hits on a blog post from 6 months ago.  Or new visitors that don’t fit your usual profile.  Or long-time customers spending less.

Whatever it is, odds are there’s an opportunity hiding in there somewhere, waiting to be found.  All you have to do is start asking: Why?

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