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NY Marathon: The Lost Opportunity

As New York and New Jersey try to pick up the pieces after Superstorm Sandy, a tremendous opportunity has been squandered. It is called the New York Marathon.

It took City Hall four days to figure out that sending 40,000 people to run through a ravaged city wasn’t such a great idea. The eleventh hour cancellation on Saturday left New Yorkers seething and the runners, who had made their way to the race from across the world, disappointed.

Yet a different scenario was possible. Business professor Saras Sarasvathy argues that the ability to leverage unpleasant surprises for the benefit of your venture is what separates true entrepreneurs from the rest of us humans.

Apparently, six years in politics have dampened Bloomberg’s entrepreneurial spirit to the extent that he couldn’t find a way to recruit 40,000 athletic idealists for city clean up. All it required was setting the marathon apparatus in motion and ferrying the participants to Staten Island or bussing them to Brooklyn and the Jersey Shore.

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(marathon image via Shutterstock)

Chances are that many companies would have stepped forward to contribute to the effort, whether financially or with supplies. The clean-up marathon could have been a huge success. Besides helping flood victims dig out their houses, it would have established Bloomberg as a visionary leader, much in the same way that 9/11 propelled Rudy Giuliani onto the national scene.

But alas, the opportunity was wasted. And while some runners took the ferry to Staten Island of their own initiative, the city’s mismanagement spiraled into a PR fiasco, which has left a bad taste in the mouths of New Yorkers.

As fun as it may be to bash the mayor of New York, most of us waste opportunities right, left, and center. Whenever circumstances don’t match our plans, we blame life for getting in the way.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi, the author of the Tanya and the founder of Chabad, illustrates how G-d “bends over backwards” to set stumbling blocks our way. Each obstacle is a special delivery in disguise. Inside the ugly packaging is a gift that can potentially transform our life if only we have the courage to open the box.

Just ask the Swedish entrepreneur Yngve Bergqvist. On the morning of his planned international ice sculpting festival, he faced unexpected rain, warm weather and a crowd of disappointed tourists from across Europe. Instead of cancelling, his team took the visitors to the local river (thankfully still frozen solid) and taught them ice sculpting techniques. Other participants learn to build igloos.

When the day ended, some of the tourists decided to sleep in their own creation. That’s how Ice Hotel was born. Today, Bergqvist runs an enormously popular chain of hotels and is also the driving force behind hundreds of Absolut Ice Bars around the world.

If you are looking for inspiration to transform obstacles into opportunities, visit the Ice Hotel site and download one of the gorgeous pictures. Set it as your computer’s background or just hang it near your workspace. Even if you don’t know how to turn thawing ice into a million bucks, you’ll find your own treasures along the way.

PS. When I first tried posting this story, my site was down. So it first appeared on the Times of Israel. Nothing like sorting our contingency for a story about contingencies.

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