9. EXPLOITING OPPORTUNITIES
In the process of self-development, being able to seize (often unplanned) opportunities as they arise is probably one of the most important aspects of personal effectiveness. One of the main reasons for this is psychological, choosing the timing so that it is optimal for somebody else. The timing in achieving anything is of the essence.
In the Netherlands, the culture is dominated by the search for clarity, ‘black and white’ thinking, aiming to reach agreements on virtually everything, and especially to lay down when particular issues are to be discussed. This is sometimes efficient, but often time consuming and not as clear and straightforward as you might suppose. For example, if you plan to talk about something to somebody on a specific date and at a given time, then this is nearly always because it is convenient for the diary. Nobody has control over the then current social environment or what will have happened in the meantime. In many cases the planned appointment will be postponed because it no longer fits in the diary. Obviously, sometimes this does not matter but, on other occasions, it can be very costly, and then in the terms of lost opportunities and the delays which are associated.
Suppose we try another approach. We establish what we wish to achieve and with whom (this is essential). Then we wait for just the right circumstances, which we may even have to create. These are often related to the mood of the other party which has to be observed and judged until the timing is optimal. It may even be that a chance meeting by the coffee machine seems to offer a perfect opportunity (a question of judgement of course). Decision taking, or agreeing to something is never entirely rational but is tied up with the prevailing emotions. The diary can’t deal with this!
I always have a list of things which I want to achieve. These are reviewed at least once a day to reassess their importance (this never remains the same) and to look at the opportunities which there may be for dealing with them. I try never to force the issue. It is still my experience that the required openings just seem to appear. Only rituals are left to be covered in meetings.
Leaders are always looking for the right opportunities, but then not only for themselves but also for their people. This promotes motivation, perhaps more than anything else might do.
Being ready to exploit opportunities
You should try to anticipate what might happen. Just like a chess player you have to be a few steps ahead of the game. What is the likely impact and the probability? You then need to prepare for such an event. However, you must also remind yourself to remain open for the things which cannot be anticipated or are outside your control (black swans).
Observe and learn to recognise (sometimes by looking back) fruitful situations. This also involves assessing likely future developments and calculating the effect on others. Sometimes you only have a fleeting second to profit from the totally unexpected.
Eliminate areas which are unlikely to add value or are too risky.
Be very patient and have the courage to wait for the best circumstances. Once you have made your judgement, strike while the iron is hot. Then move instantly to the next phase, is everything turning out as planned?
If you are committed to achieving something, and your environment has been primed, opportunities seem almost always to just appear.
Become a keen student of the possible analogies with other situations which provided promising chances.
Try to determine the areas where opportunities might arise: for example, process vulnerability, management succession, market disparity, demographic changes, alterations to the fiscal climate, innovation, new knowledge etc. The list is actually endless.
De Bono emphasises the need for the right attitude in relation to being able to carry to success whatever may suddenly turn up by luck. This attitude means you are just happy to be in the right place at the right time and are not consumed with trying to demonstrate your role in your good fortune. Luck is an ingredient in success but you have to be able to realise that you are being lucky or may well soon be lucky.
Your achievements can be immeasurably improved if your strategy is set out in such a way (mostly foreseen from ample alternative courses) that you can take advantage of opportunities. If they arise and your strategy needs to be amended then that’s what needs to happen.
Something which is very simple to do is to reserve sufficient room in your diary so that you can be flexible enough to take the chances which may arise. This is particularly true with customers. If you are able to change course to satisfy their particular wishes then you may have a customer for life.
To help you to become familiar with recognising opportunities, describe a situation when you realised that you had a ‘perfect’ opportunity. Explain why you thought it was perfect and how you made this assessment? How did you ultimately profit from this opportunity or did your chance slip away? What did you do then?
What are you doing every day to make yourself ‘opportunity ripe’. Note, in particular, where you think your chances may come from and check, at least mentally, if the necessary resources are flexible enough for their new employment.