“There are smart decisions and wise decisions. And one form of wisdom is the ability to judge when to let luck disrupt our plans. Not all time in life is equal. The question is, when the unequal moment comes, do we recognize it, or just let it slip? Jim Collins (Great by Choice)
Being opportunistic means that we take advantage of those opportunities that unexpectedly cross our paths. To best position ourselves to capitalize opportunities, we need to:
We need to prepare ourselves and our companies for opportunities. First and foremost, this means running our business well so that we have the capacity to take on a new opportunity. In addition, this requires that we build in flexibility in our organizations and in the people on our team. A stodgy company with employees who are stuck in their ways will never be able to take advantage of new and unexpected opportunities.
“To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.” Winston Churchill
Scan the Horizon
By scanning the horizon, we keep our eyes and ears open to new stimuli and new possibilities.
- Is there a new technology that could transform our company?
- Is there a new market segment or product that could grow rapidly?
- Are there key employees at competitors that could dramatically improve our business and that might be interested in leaving their current company?
Be Open to Opportunities
Is our company open to new opportunities or would such new possibilities be squashed before reaching the senior management level?
During the Great Recession, our company got into a new market space that eventually reached $20M in annual revenue via a phone call. The receptionist got a phone call from a company in that space and (fortunately) the salesmen followed up even though the request was quite far outside of our wheelhouse. This worked because we had been pushing the company to be open to new opportunities through the slogan: “You can always say ‘no’ later.”
Do Small Experiments
As discussed above, great opportunities grow from small possibilities. To realize great opportunities, we need to run experiments to see if they will work.
Many years ago, we started an experiment running a Turnkey Services Division after a talented leader at a partner company came onto the market. My boss approved it on the spot speculating that it would lose at most $300K if it failed. Corporate found out about this Services Division only two years later by which time it had revenues of $10M and profit in excess of $1M.
Budgets Be Damned
The example above demonstrates that being opportunistic means busting the budget. My boss insulated our business unit from any loss as a result of our experiment. If the experiment failed it would not have affected us monetarily. Seth Godin says it well:
There are two sides to every coin… As soon as you say, ‘failure is not an option’, you’ve just said, ‘innovation is not an option.’”
Similarly, if budgets rule our company and we cannot take a risk on a new opportunity or an unbudgeted hire of a key salesperson or executive without jeopardizing our paycheck or career advancement, then we will let opportunities pass our company by.
In our lives, our careers, and our business, we can accelerate forward by taking advantage of luck and decisively snatching at opportunities that arise suddenly. To do this, we must (continuing the quote from Jim Collins)…
“…have the fanatic, obsessive discipline to keep marching, to push the opportunity to the extreme, to make the most of the chances we’re given.”