Stories abound about men, women, and children who have refused to allow temporary obstacles to become permanent roadblocks on their life’s path. These individuals–you may well be one of them–concur with the insight of Sam Keen: “We have to move from the illusion of certainty to the certainty of illusion.” In other words, there are few sure things in this world, few absolutes in an era of dizzying change. Those who know most obstacles are mere illusions understand the Putnam advertisement, which reminds us that we may think we understand the situation but what we often fail to realize is that the situation changes, moment by moment. Certainty is truly an illusion, especially certainty that crises are crises. Sometimes they are not.


Obstacle-removers have learned the formula for converting crises–actual and anticipated–into opportunities. That formula, which calls for the repetition of two important letters, contains four important words altogether. We call it the R:OI FORMULA.

In the financial realm, ROI, of course, refers to “return on investment.” And once you have mastered this personal-improvement formula, you will have maximized the return on the investment you have made…in yourself! The investment involves thinking positively, creatively, and faithfully. It is an investment not so much of money as of time and effort, a pledge to view a negative experience in the most favorable light possible. Opportunists, in the best sense of the word, are determined to find the silver linings in each cloud, persistent in their efforts to turn lemons to lemonade, adamant in their belief that if you want to see rainbows, you need to put up with the rain.


A word about the word “crisis”: as used here, it refers to both large and small adversities. The mindset required to transform a “crisis” to an opportunity can be applied to any adversity. Let’s consider a relatively small adversity: receiving a ticket for speeding. The negative emotions surrounding such an event might be sufficient to spoil the remainder of the ticketee’s day. Suffused with anger, perhaps with embarrassment, possibly even fear concerning the explanation to a family member of this unbudgeted expense, the ticket-receiver may be edgy for the rest of the day–and so may be less attentive than usual to his or her work, may even be less pleasant than usual to his or her co-workers.

The R:OI FORMULA asks that you look at the adversity in such a way that benefit may be gained. And, in fact, it is altogether possible that the police officer who issued the ticket may have saved the motorist’s life. While there is no way of knowing what might have happened if the speeder had continued unchecked, the fact remains that a good many traffic fatalities are caused by excessive speed. The ticket actually represents a opportunity to be a more careful driver.

In terms of business, what constitutes a “crisis” in one industry may pose as an opportunity in another. Consider the anti-rice-throwing trend for weddings. More and more wedding planners, according to a Wall Street Journal article (Joyce Cohen, “Here Comes the Bride,”  January 22, 1996, page B1), are using rice less and less because it stings, it creates slippery conditions and it is difficult to clean.

Mindful of a potential business opportunity, Swallowtail Farms of Carmichael, California, and Hole-in-Hand Butterfly Farm in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, are now selling packets of butterflies to be released by guests and directed at bridal bouquets and headpieces. “Outside-the-box” thinking like this is necessary for finding creative solutions. The R:OI FORMULA will help you develop that kind of thinking.

The first of the four important words in the formula is “Obstacle.” Serious health problems and financial ruin are probably the most devastating obstacles one can face. And yet, there is good to be found even in these most trying circumstances. To illustrate, H. J. Heinz and Milton Hershey both were bankrupt at one time in their careers. Instead of sinking into the myopic morass that would, understandably, prevent future success from taking shape, both these men went on to rebuild their empires. The same was true of Walt Disney except that–in addition to filing bankruptcy–he also suffered a nervous breakdown. 

Sometimes we are not even aware of the forces propelling us toward success. But if we are open to opportunity, if we can regard the obstacle as a temporary and not a permanent condition, we can seize the moment as well as the day. Muhammad Ali’s ability to see beyond the illusion of failure is chronicled in his recollection of a beautiful new bicycle his parents had given him. It was stolen the very next day outside a gyn where he had left it parked.

With his heart about to break, Ali ran into the basement of the building looking for a policeman who worked out there. The distraught child told the officer he was going to find the person who had stolen his bicycle. He vowed to beat him up. The officer asked Ali if he knew how to fight. When the child answered “no,” the policeman took him into the ring and the wonder began.

The next letter in the formula is “I” for “Illusion.” To a giver-upper, initial defeats are imbued with the illusion of permanent defeat. This is not the case with a young jockey, who lost 250 races in a row. But he kept on trying, mindful, perhaps, of Winston Churchill’s exhortation to “never, never, never give up.” Eventually, he won a race and thus began a career that resulted in his winning more money than any other jockey in 1948, 1950, 1952, and 1955. His name? Eddie Arcaro. 

Despair can create the illusion of non-ending failure. But even after hundreds of failures, the perseverers–those who know that permanent defeat is merely an illusion–ultimately reach their intended destinies.

The “R” in the R:OI FORMULA refers to the repetition of the letters “O” and “I” in two additional and equally important words. The next “O” word is “Opportunity.” If we are blinded by the brilliant, startling light that critical moments possess, we may not be able to see the opportunity before us. Similarly, when we are plunged into the darkness of the moment, we can allow ourselves to remain cut off from light or we can determine to move out of the shadow. 

In the immortal words of Shakespeare, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” 

The most successful players in the game of life have learned early on to view obstacles as opportunities in disguise. They understand the ebb and flow of life’s tides. They have come to view problems as indications of needs. And they meet the need, rather than be found “needy” at a later day. As Whitney Young, Jr., has commented, “It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”

One of the best examples of this preparedness can be found in the early career of motivational speaker Les Brown, who worked as an errand boy at a radio station. The fact that he was not being paid was merely an “obstacle illusion.” In fact, he was gaining experience and an opportunity that was lying in wait for him. He learned as much as he could about being a disc jockey. And when the opportunity presented itself, “LB, Triple P” (“Les Brown, the Platter-Playing Poppa”) was ready.

The final word in the formula begins with another “I.” It is the word “Inspiration.” There are numerous self-development actions/ activities that can help you acquire the perspectives so important for the conversion of crises to opportunities. One such action is to read the inspiration biographies of those who overcame adversity. The “Inspiration” factor in the R:OI formula will aid you in deriving the greatest return on the investment you make in yourself. You will have to look inside yourself to find the drive and determination that will effect a more positive outcome to the difficulties you may be facing in your own life.


Refuse to be a victim. Look trouble in the face and stare it down. Get to know, directly or indirectly, survivors who have not allowed the illusion of defeat to blanket the possibility of victory. Learn exactly how those illusions permeated their thinking–for a few minutes at least–and how they overcame the obstacles to find new opportun-ities. As Gretchen G. Clement wisely remarked, “Great opportunity is usually disguised as unsolvable problems.”