Entrepreneurship TED&TEDx

“Opportunity Readiness” and the “Toothbrush Test”

February 2020

If you work on your “Opportunity Readiness” and apply the “Toothbrush Test” you will change your life for the better.

At TEDxTarnow in 2019 I introduced the idea of “Opportunity Readiness” and the “Toothbrush Test”.

“Opportunity Readiness” is the degree to which you are right now open to an opportunity, in the same way that an army fighting unit has to be “battle ready” right now. You never know when the opportunity of your life will present itself, and in the talk I explain how to work on and improve your opportunity readiness.

The Toothbrush Test is a simple idea that you should aim to be happy in your own eyes, at the start and end of each day, as you brush your teeth. Don’t worry about what ‘society’ thinks, and other people’s judgements. Your “self assessment” is the ultimate test.

I’m sharing the transcript of my talk below, you can watch the talk here and see the slides I used here.

To change the world – start with yourself | Richard Lucas | TEDxTarnow

“Imagine that you are motivated, hard working and ambitious. Imagine that you want to change the world for the better,  but there’s a problem: you don’t know how to do it  How might that feel?  
I can tell you how it feels and how it felt, that because that was me, as a student in the 1980s, and as a young man in the 1990s. I wanted impact. I wanted legacy, I wanted to change the world, but I didn’t know how to do it.
Instead,  at least in my subconscious, I focussed on trying to impress other people, and to some extent it was successful, it worked. I still remember the buzz when I got a coveted place to study at Cambridge University,  I still remember my few sporting triumphs  playing the traditional English game of cricket.  But I also remember how quickly that feeling passed away and crumbled, as I had to look for the next way to impress other people.  It didn’t last and I had that internal feeling of anxiety.

Why did I come to TEDxTarnow and the wider TEDx audience to tell this story  ?  It’s because I’ve found an approach and a solution to this problem. I wish it had been available to me back then, and I want to share it with you now.

If you are more grounded now than I was back then, you know yourself better than I did, and you have a clear plan, I still think this approach can give you a more peaceful and happy life, and improve your impact and effectiveness.  And if you are like the stereotypical Polish teenager from the 1990s, who was asked  “is it true that the problems of Polish youth are ignorance and apathy, and he replied  “I don’t know and don’t care”. If you are like that, I still think my story can have some benefit for you.

So why did TEDxTarnow invite me onto the stage to tell my story. Let me take you through a little of my history, things that worked out and something that didn’t work out at all.  I came to Poland to live in 1991, and since then I’ve set up 30 businesses, some which are now worth a lot of money. I also put time and energy into supporting business and social entrepreneurship including, as you heard, TEDxKazimierz.  I’ve three wonderful children – all of whom have been involved in their own TEDx projects, entirely independently of me. And last, but by no means least, I have become Polish by my own choice, I have no Polish ancestors. In 2017 I was awarded Polish citizenship,  passing what, for me, was a challenging Polish language test, and so I can say I am very proud to be Polish. “Jestem Polakiem, Jestem bardzo dumyn Polakiem” . 
Thank you or I should say “Dziękuję”

If I look back at the things that worked out, the thing that strikes me now is that many of the projects and ideas that worked for me were not my ideas. I either brought great ideas from the rest of the world to Poland, or I helped Polish people who approached me develop their projects, and I’ve come to realise that impact and legacy doesn’t have to be to do with working on your own ideas and I want you to remember that I’ll come back to that idea later.

But I want to tell you about the biggest failure in my life. In 2003 after years of trying desperately and unsuccessfully trying to hold my marriage together I got divorced. This was definitely the hardest thing in my life. This is not the time or place to go into  the details, but it was the both strongest and weakest thing I ever did.  Strongest because I had to say the un- sayable, to tell my wife, her parents, my parents, and my three small children of my decision, and the Weakest because I simply couldn’t hold it together any more. When you fail so publicly and so completely, it forces you to you re-evaluate the idea of looking good in the eyes of other people.  You have to take on the demon of worrying about society’s opinion, beat the demon and put it behind you.  So then, after I was divorced, I was living alone, apart from the 50% of the time when my children were with me, and I would wake up in a silent, empty bedroom. I am sure you can imagine what that might be like, and over time I developed and recommend what I call the “tooth brush” test. In the morning and in evening you do you teeth looking in the mirror, and this is not a talk about dental hygiene, it is very important to brush your teeth, not just once but twice, but that is not my TEDx talk.  As you look yourself in the mirror, in the morning, you should ask yourself 

”Am I happy with my plan for the day?” and at the end of the day, when you look back   “Did I do the things today that were most worth doing?” and what really matters is not what other people say and other people think. What matters is how you judge your day yourself.  Other people will come and go, but you will always be there.

So you have to do do what matters for you. 

This idea was perfectly illustrated by 10 year old Ishita Katyal when she gave the opening talk at TED in 2016 when she said

Ishita Katyal on the TED stage in 2016

”Instead of asking children what they want to be when they grow up, you should ask them what they want to be now”. (See her whole talk here

Ishita Katyal 

It’s a great instruction, but it can be generalised – it is not just for children who should ask themselves what they should be doing right now.
“I am in the right place right place right now, I know I should be giving this talk at TEDxTarnow – but are you in the right place being in the audience?” or if you are watching on line – “Is this the right thing for you to be do doing – right now?”  The other point that comes through Ishita’s idea is the importance of taking action or doing.
When I was a young man in the 1990s and earlier,  I often had business ideas, that I didn’t put into action, and when I did put them into action, I didn’t know how to make them work effectively.  When my first business SKK started taking off in Poland in the 1990s,  from the outside it seemed that we were doing well, growing, making money with great clients. But I was incredibly stressed because I didn’t have the basic skills of  organisation and management.  I was looking around for a solution and came across a book by Hyrum Smith  “The Ten Natural Laws Successful Time and Life Management” and it kind of saved me. I realised that if you can manage your time you can manage your life.   My talk today isn’t about the importance of being able to organise yourself and your time, and that of other people, but if you want to have legacy and impact  that’s incredibly important. 

Now suppose you agree with me, you get the idea that you shouldn’t worry about other people’s opinions, you get the idea that you should take action towards having a positive impact., but you still don’t know what to do. 
The world’s most successful investor, Warren Buffett, once said

“An idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan”

Warren Buffett

But my story seems to imply something different – because I didn’t come to Poland with a clear plan,. and my successes, and other things that happened were a result of other people coming to me. What I concluded was that I was very lucky. because I was kind of ready for the opportunities.

But you don’t need to be lucky.  You can reduce the role of luck by being ready for opportunities. The army has “battle readiness”- the extent to which fighting unit is ready for war now.  You can be “opportunity ready”,. and I want to talk to you about the idea of  “opportunity readiness” because you never know when opportunity is there and it will come. It might be something gleams in the far left side your field of vision.  If you are not  looking out for it, you will miss it and if you see it and you are not ready –  you can’t take advantage of it.

So how can you get opportunity ready ? Let me explain. I prepared this talk. Are you right now for a great opportunity that might emerge, even today, during the break here at TEDxTarnow, or when you stop watching this talk on line ?  Are there gaps between where you are now, what you think and do, who you spend time with, and how it needs to be to be opportunity ready ?  

The good news is that you can work on getting ready.  I’ll explain how. Think about your physical fitness. It’s obviously great to be in good shape but if you are physically fit, eating well, sleeping well,  looking after yourself, when opportunity comes, you’ll have the stamina and strength to take advantage of it,  (and also you will get in the habit of taking on challenges and dealing with them).

Think  about  your skills and education. Is there a difference between where you are and need to be. There are so many things you can learn that will be make you a better co-founder, a better person to help someone else with their project, a better leader of a new project, and if you take on the challenge of developing yourself, of course you immediately become much more attractive as a potential partner for other people, to have you join them – and also education is fun, and it builds your sense of self-esteem. 

What about your money and finances ? By this I don’t mean “are you rich”,  I mean “are you spending less than you make and avoiding buying things on credit? Because  the more you save, the more you can invest, and the more you can invest, the more you can devote time to your opportunities when they come. And suppose your partner, family and friends admire you for your physical goods, things you consume,  rather than your character,  well that leads to something altogether more serious:

Are your relationships ready for opportunity  ? 

Suppose here at TEDxTarnow you come across a brilliant idea and you go home excited and you tell your partner  – about this idea you want to devote the next six  days, weeks, months or even years of your life to ? Will they support you, or will they be jealous of your time? Are they the sort of person who is a little jealous that you are here today, not with them, and if you are minute late home you’ll be getting a text message – please don’t look at your phone  right now. If you have the sort of  partner who supports you, cherish that partner. you are very lucky,  and if you don’t  – well that’s very sad,  but ask yourself this:

should you be spending your life with someone who is not going support you in your dreams

You have one life, it’s precious.

What about your family and your friends. Are you spending time with the sort of people you will encourage you?  TEDxTarnow, and other TEDx-es, are full of of people who will inspire you and encourage you.  My father when he taught at Oxford University told his students,  “You will learn more from each other than me”.  This can be generalised. Choose who you spend your time with carefully.  

Do you have an  opportunity mindset – is your radar switched on for opportunity? 

Are you spending your time getting new experiences, meeting new people. talking to strangers. exposing yourself to diversity, the more diversity of experience, the more opportunities you will have, and if you come across someone doing something fantastic, consider offering to help them or join ing them – but remember this.

If you offer to join them or to help them ., they might say “no”.  All of the opportunities I’ve had  either resulted from when people approached me, and asked me for help, or more often me going to them and offering – and people do say “no”.

The other side of opportunity is accepting the risk of rejection.

and what about your self awareness? – I told you that when I was younger I didn’t realise I was driven by the need to look good in the eyes of other people. TEDx-ers are driven by the desire to share “ideas worth spreading”.  If that’s what drives you, let that be your thing, but if it isn’t that, get to know yourself, understand what motivates you, and that will truly drive you forward.

So to close, I want to tell you that I have been through the story of a young man who didn’t know how to achieve the impact he wanted, who worked through life trying to look good in the eyes of other people, and now I’ve ended up on stage in front of you today because it is not about me and my ideas, that’s not the route to impact and effectiveness.  It doesn’t mean everything works for me. It doesn’t mean that everything is easy – and believe me (and the other speakers will confirm this – giving a TEDxTarnow talk isn’t an easy thing to do)  but I am at peace. Because am I doing what I believe in and I want to do. If I have a plan – I work on it.  But if I don’t have a plan, I work on my “opportunity readiness” because I know that will bring me closer to my life’s goal of having an impact and making positive change.  

And you don’t  know whether your opportunity will be in five years from now, five  months from now, five days from now or tomorrow. You can do the same as me, you can work on your opportunity readiness. So what does that mean?  I told you already: get into shape, turn your radar on, talk to strangers, offer to get involved, be ready for rejection.  

And don’t do it next week, don’t do it tomorrow. start today.