Where Opportunity Lives

Here’s one entrepreneur’s view on opportunity:

“I grew up in a very affluent town, but my parents divorced when I was young. My father wasn’t much involved in my life, and we were poor. Many kids I knew played Little League baseball and Pop Warner football, but I didn’t – by the time I was eight, I was mowing lawns and trying to earn money.

When I got to high school, it was immediately obvious that if you were on a sports team, you’d automatically be more plugged in socially. I’m naturally athletic, but I’d never played any organized sports; I tried out for basketball, baseball, and football, but I wasn’t any good at any of them.

Our school didn’t have a boy’s lacrosse team, and I figured that since no one else knew how to play lacrosse either, everyone would be as clueless as I am. So, I persuaded the administration to start a team if I could find a coach and enough boys to sign up. And I did. Eventually I got very good at lacrosse and became team captain.

There’s a valuable lesson in that experience – one that applies to business, too. Some people think of opportunity the way it’s defined in the dictionary – a set of circumstances that make something possible – and they talk about it as if it arrives organically. You “spot opportunity” or wait around for “opportunity to knock.”

I look at it differently. I believe that you have to be the architect of the circumstances – that opportunity is something you manufacture, not something you wait for…..”

Biz Stone, “Twitter’s Co-Founder on Creating Opportunities” in the Harvard Business Review, June 2015.

As I’ve said before, business is change. As a leader, you have two options: 1. Lead change; or 2. Let change lead you. Many corporate leaders choose the second option by default. They don’t really look for opportunities because they’ve been successful.

I’ve seen many executives try alternatives to identifying and seizing opportunity, working diligently to maintain the status quo and avoid risk. One indicator of the risk-averse leader is creating the culture of micromanagement, centralized decision-making, with the focus on control. They’re waiting for opportunity to knock.

Finding opportunity and taking it will test your courage as a leader, and the returns could be huge. And, the search may not be that daunting. One of the most promising ideas I’ve come across to identify opportunities is in what Alan Lewis and Dan McKone refer to as the “Edge Strategy” (“When Opportunity Resides Along the Edges,” Harvard Business Review, February 1, 2016).  They argue there are three key questions involved in finding an edge opportunity:

  1. What do our different types of customers want (or need)?
  2. What could or should our solution include?
  3. Which of our assets would others value and why?

These three questions help you to focus on the customer, not yourself.  By identifying where these “edges” are, you create opportunities to serve your customers better.

Think about how you might take on these questions, and how you’ll address the answers you get. A cross-functional team would be a good place to start. Give them a clear charter, resources, and top-level support. Who knows? You might find where the next great opportunity lives.


Enjoy the journey!