09/22/2014 12:16 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:03 EDT

What I Learned This Week: Where the Opportunity Lies

True opportunity lies where there is no opportunity. It's the macro version of the stock market adage "Buy low, sell high," or golden age baseball star Willie Keeler's advice for success: "Hit 'em where they ain't."


During the last Quebec election campaign, I found myself engaged in a lot of high-profile media drumbeating about how to improve the future of my beloved hometown of Montreal. Using newspaper editorials, blog posts, TV appearances, radio interviews and personal appearances, I pounded away at the themes of building businesses, looking outward, embracing youth and revitalizing an old city in a new way.

Well, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for, because it may come true.

Cut to a little consulting contract I started last week for the city's upcoming 375th birthday in 2017, which happens to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Canada and the 50th of the magical Expo 67. Working with the organizing committee, my job is to overlook much of the event's marketing efforts, but the title I've asked for to match the mission is "Chief Attention Getter."

This isn't new-age silly or trite; we live in a world where attention (particularly of the positive ilk) is a valuable commodity, and attracting the right type of it can ultimately lead to investment and economic growth.

When I first heard about the 375th, I kinda dismissed the celebrations as "bread and circuses for the masses."

But upon reflection and discussion with some of those involved, I realized the utmost importance of the event, which I think -- I trust! -- will serve as a re-launch of this truly unique place to live and work.

Perhaps my major inspiration for getting involved was the flow of negativity I heard from friends and colleagues who should know better. Every city has its flaws, but when many of my Montreal peers openly admit that they tell their kids to flee elsewhere because "There's no opportunity here," my blood boils.

What really kills me is that most who say this are successful in their own right; people who stuck through tough times and prospered greatly. These are people who built and sold businesses, established powerful personal brands and enjoyed the financial rewards and recognition that go with them.

And these are people who should not just relate to this week's lesson, but can be the poster children for it, namely:

True opportunity lies where there is no opportunity.

It's the macro version of the stock market adage "Buy low, sell high," or golden age baseball star Willie Keeler's advice for success: "Hit 'em where they ain't."

I have OTHER friends (more positive than the ones I reference earlier) who take full advantage of this credo every day. One is an accountant who invests in war-torn and/or economically-devastated countries, counting on their rebound. Another is a guy who bought up whole blocks of crumbling industrial-area for pennies on the dollar, and who now spreads cheer at the countless restaurants, bars and coffee shops that line a neighbourhood in re-birth. Happily, there are many more.

Granted, there's no guarantee and not every "no opportunity" investment is a slam-dunk win.

But the win, if it comes, is always exponentially bigger in an arena that has been counted out, is down on its luck, or is so far-fetched, people give it little credence, if any at all.

(For a perfect example of the latter, you don't have to look any further than Amazon's recent billion-dollar purchase of, or at the magna-success of YouTube star Pew Die Pie, both exploiting the recent, previously unfathomable, trend of watching and commenting on others playing video games.)

So a little challenge to end this off: print, download or find another way to store this blog post. And when 2018 rolls around, and the "official" celebrations have died down in Montreal, I hope you'll join me in some of the more personal "unofficial" ones of people who were smart enough to find a way to invest in and breathe a new life into this city "way back when"...namely, now.