“ Opportunity comes in
over the transom. Too much planning can make you deaf to opportunity.
Opportunity knocks, but it only knocks once. You have to be ready for the accident.”
Peter Drucker from the Forward to Finishing Well by Bob Buford
Are you able to hear opportunity when it knocks? Sadly, most people do not in large part
because the opportunity arrives unannounced and perhaps even disguised as an
interruption or a huge problem.
Charles Swindoll once wrote, “We are all faced with a series of great
opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” If we are not attuned to the subtle
knock of opportunity we may miss out.
Peter Drucker’ s insight on opportunity quoted above is some
of the wisest council on opportunity I have ever received. Opportunities can be like a rogue wave
that appears suddenly from nowhere, throws everything temporarily into chaos,
and then disappears just as suddenly as it came. Many of us have a tendency to get focused on a particular
path of action and dismiss everything that doesn’t fit our plans as an
interruption. Because we tend to be very process-focus, IT people can be among
the worst at missing opportunity’s knock. Here are a few thoughts on how to help you and
your organization stay tuned in to opportunity.
- 1. Plans should be written in pencil, not
carved in stone.
It is easy to get so focused on
plans and strategies that we loose sight of the original mission. I once heard a wonderful story about
the young ruler who built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his young wife. He became totally focused on the
construction of this elaborate memorial to his deceased wife supervising every
detail. As the project progressed,
he became annoyed with a large box on the site that seemed to be in the way and
have no purpose so he ordered the workmen to get rid of it. The box was his wife’s coffin. I don’t know if the story is true, but
it illustrates the point. We can get so focused on the details of the journey
that we loose sight of the destination.
In the IT world these plans
sometimes take the form of “standards.” How many IT departments have missed
opportunities or lost credibility because some new innovation didn’t fit with
their established standards?
A number of years ago I was
recruited to lead an organizational turnaround at one of the top US
pharmaceutical companies. The head
of IT had been fired as had a number of pharma CIOs during that time. Determined to avoid their fate, I began
contacting colleagues at other companies to get insight for why so many IT
leaders were loosing their jobs.
Almost to a person, all related basically the same story. Pharmaceutical research was undergoing
a transformation that was enabled by three new technologies, each of which
required extensive use of IT.
These three innovations, combinatorial chemistry, high-throughput
screening and bioinformatics, all represented enormous opportunities for the IT
organization but they also required “non-standard” technologies for that time,
such as UNIX, and required scientists to assume a hybrid role that was half
science and half programmer. These
IT leaders simply couldn’t see the opportunity because of their focus on their
We are seeing the same type of
thing being played out today in the form of “consumerization” and the easy
accessibility of cloud-based services.
These innovations come with
problems but they may also offer significant business opportunities. Be
prepared to change your plans and to move quickly.
- 2. When opportunity knocks ask “What if?”
before deciding whether to answer the door.
Every potential opportunity
deserves some form of assessment.
Pausing and asking “What if?” if the first step. Many things will be
ruled out for good reasons but if the due diligence isn’t done, the opportunity
may be missed forever.
Overconfidence and false or outdated assumptions can easily bias
us. Remember, several record
companies rejected the Beatles because they believed that their style of music
was on the way out. A little
research would have revealed that they had a large and enthusiastic following
in both Germany and the United Kingdom and dispelled the notion that their
musical style was no longer relevant. Don’t let your ego or the fact that
something hasn’t been done before blind you to a potential opportunity.
- 3. Be disciplined.
Attempting to respond to every
potential opportunity is just as damaging as missing the good ones. Know when to say no. Becoming fragmented or overloading your
organization with commitments can quickly destroy you. Small start-ups are the most vulnerable
to over committing because they are afraid to say no to anything with the
potential to generate revenue.
I am advising a very successful
small company that has responded to almost every opportunity only to now find
themselves overworked, unfocused and stressed out. My advice to them is to clarify their strategy based on
their strengths and capabilities. They should only accept opportunities that
fit within their “sweet spot.”
Separately they should develop a business development function that is
charged with objectively exploring and exploiting opportunities outside of
their existing capabilities. These
may take the form of new lines of business, strategic partnerships,
collaborations or a number of other forms. The important thing for them is to be thoughtful and
intentional. A little process and
discipline will go a long way.
Finally, exploiting opportunities
will likely involve a lot of work.
Ann Landers said,” Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work so
most people don’t recognize them.”
People who successfully exploit opportunities are not afraid of hard
Follow me on Twitter