What makes a good opportunity? How can we compare opportunities to choose the best ones? The way most people react to opportunities depends on their personality. Optimists chase after everything that looks remotely like it might work. They move without aiming, that is, without considering the potential of any given opening and without thinking about the probability of pursuing it successfully. Pessimists, on the other hand, are unable to trust any opening, seeing only the risks involved.
In exploring new areas, and all opportunities are, by definition, new, we are going to make mistakes in judging them, but, if we understand the psychology involved, we can foresee the most common mistakes people make in choosing what to pursue and how to pursue it. To compare opportunities, defined as openings that allow us to advance or expand our competitive position, we should think about the natural elements that make up all positions: mission, climate, ground, character, and skills.
The best opportunities are those advancing us toward our long-term goals.
Mission is the core of every competitive position, defining our purpose and meaning. People judge us by our priorities, which arise out of mission. Some opportunities may satisfy lower-priority goals, but the best opportunities always help us meet longer-term goals. While we may at times choose the short-term over the longer-term, we damage our competitive position, our standing in the minds of others, and our sense of meaning, if we do not choose opportunities that consistently take us toward our ultimate goals.
The best opportunities are those leveraging the longer-term trends of change.
If there was no change, there would be no new opportunities. However, there are many different types of change, both predictable and surprising. The best opportunities are those where we understand the pattern of change involved in creating them, if it is cyclic, if it results from a reversal or a continuation of a long-term trend, or if it is based on a shift in thinking or technology. In other words, when we have a sense of the forces behind that change, the “why” explaining it. Changes Some changes are short-term, but as long as we understand that, we can take advantage of them. For longer term changes, we want to be among those seeing them first.
The best opportunities are those on ground, that is, in competitive arenas, where we understand the rules.
For some, the grass is always greener somewhere else. However, we only know one thing for sure about completely different competitive areas: we are ignorant about the rules of new terrain, how things work there, what the climate is, and where the rewards are. We advance our competitive position easiest in small steps, and we must always start from where we are. Our most important decision regarding picking opportunities is picking the right ground, the right competitive arena. Since climate is tied to ground, we must pick the ground that the longer-term trend favors, but we must also pick the ground that is close to our own.
The best opportunities are those that suit our strengths and weaknesses.
We are all different, having differences in character, enjoying different things, liking different kinds of activities and challenges. We especially enjoy what we do well. None of us can be successful doing what we do not enjoy, things for which we are poorly suited. An opportunity is, by definition, an opening, an unfulfilled need. In fulfilling that need, we want to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. Some people are suited for social work like sales, others for solitary problem solving like programming. We cannot fight our natures or change them quickly. We must pursue opportunities that suit them.
The best opportunities are those that require our existing skills.
We should always be learning, but learning is expensive. An important way we develop our strategic positions is to expand our abilities. However, the most valuable new abilities are those that build on our existing skills. We can continually learn new skills in different areas, never building existing knowledge, our new abilities are always at a low-level, the least valuable form of know-how. We must pick opportunities that best leverage our existing resources, especially our resource of knowledge and ability, allowing us to build high-level, more valuable skills on the basis of our existing knowledge.
Seeing opportunities can be initially difficult, but once we master that ability, called Listening, we will see openings all around us, ones that were previously hidden. We must then build on our Listening with Aim, that is picking the best use of our existing position to advance ourselves, winning more respect and more rewards from others.
Advancing an existing position is just that. We cannot change who we are or where we are in an instant. We must start from where we are, in terms of mission, climate, ground, character, and skills, to grow and move forward in the directions we desire.