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You can change perceptions by doing the unexpected

By Marie Kelly-Davies

I heard Michael Kasprowicz, a former fast bowler for the Australian Cricket Team and Opportunity International Australia Council member, speaking this week at a lunch about perceptions and how you can change them by doing the unexpected. He was so inspiring!

We all know that your image and the way you are perceived by others influences their behaviour towards you. But how do you shift someone’s perception of you towards your reality? Michael says that making a small change can shift others' perception of you and that it can empower you to take back control of your image.

As a sportsman, Michael learnt a lot about perception. When you are an athlete, people automatically put you into a box, they have an opinion of you based on the sport and the position you play, the team you are in and your performance each time you play. But perceptions are not necessarily fixed and you can change them by doing the unexpected.

Michael says the biggest lesson he learnt as a sportsman is that you are in control of your journey. There is a sense of ownership but at the same time, you need to separate yourself from the group. You need to understand the importance of how perception works. “I was in and out of the Australian side 13 times within a 10-year period. At the third or fourth time, I was told by the selectors that they hadn’t picked me because they “knew what I could do”. Ultimately, what I was being told was that they couldn’t imagine me being any better. Potential is all about imagining someone doing better than what they are already doing, and so I knew that I had to alter my behaviour, to do something unexpected, to change the selectors’ perception of me,” says Michael.

Sometimes, a visual change can be enough to change an opinion. Michael gave the example of simply changing the length of his run-up and how this changed the perception of him to his customer, the Australian cricket selectors. He described the journey of understanding the selectors’ need and matching his performance as a solution.

Since retiring from cricket Michael is constantly asked whether he’s coaching or commentating because that is the perceived career path of an international cricketer. He’s doing neither as he’s pursuing a business career. According to Michael, moving into a new career was not easy. The hardest aspect of transitioning into business was the perception of him as a sportsman and that he may not have the potential to ‘cut it’ in business. So, he worked hard to change the way he was perceived. He completed an MBA and a company director’s course and took on several challenging business roles. He changed his behaviour and eventually noticed that perceptions of him were changing as he demonstrated his potential in a business context.

In the same way that studying business and working in industry is gradually changing perceptions of Michael, he has seen in India how perceptions of families living in poverty have changed when they do the unexpected and break the crippling cycle of poverty. These families use small loans from Opportunity to grow businesses, earn regular incomes and start the journey out of on poverty. They do the unexpected and succeed in very difficult circumstances.

Michael takes MBA students from the University of Queensland Business School to India to visit several of these families and each time he reports being amazed by how much the students’ perception of families living in poverty change when they meet them in person, listen to their stories and see for themselves what they have achieved. The students recognise the similarities between families living in poverty and themselves – pride in their family and their achievements, wanting the best education for their children and hope of a better future - and realise that by giving these families a hand up through a small loan they can help the families do the unexpected and free themselves from poverty.

When Michael speaks to MBA students about Opportunity’s business model - the 98% loan repayment rate, leveraging of funds and recycling of loans - and the impact it has on the lives of families in poverty, it gives him a great sense of pride and achievement. MBA students immediately recognise the sound economics of Opportunity’s approach to poverty alleviation and they realise the role they too can play in empowering families to make the journey out of poverty.

Michael hopes that by sharing his journey as he transitioned from being a sportsman to a businessman and the way perceptions of him have changed, he can inspire others to change their perception of poverty and realise they have the potential to give families the tools they need to break the crippling inter-generational cycle of poverty themselves.

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