How to spot an opportunity


April 8, 2015
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Stuck moment: My life, in a word? Uneventful. Sure, I’ve got plenty of things to do. And I do them. Every. Day. The same. Way. Why don’t interesting things happen in my life?

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Way back in 1969, Peggy Lee sang the Grammy-winning song, “Is That All There Is?” It’s the story of a person who experiences life’s milestones and ends up disappointed each time. Isn’t there more to it? Is that all there is?

We’ve all felt it at times. Maybe we rushed to adulthood with open arms, surprised to find it riddled with responsibility and taxes. Or our marital bliss became a grind of daily compromise. Perhaps that promising new job devolved into paperwork and PowerPoint.

We’re left wondering, Where’s my opportunity? When and where does my ship come in?

The answer is: Right there, right where it’s always been. But we need to see differently so we can recognize it.

DON’T WAIT FOR A KNOCK ON THE DOOR
If we could give Peggy one piece of advice, we would share Thomas Edison’s observation: “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Opportunity rarely presents itself as a straight line to happiness. It’s more like a nudge in our brain or a hello from a stranger. It might be something we failed at. A new problem. A disappointment. Or feeling so stuck that remaining the same simply isn’t a choice.

And it’s not just how we see the world. It’s how we think about ourselves that can blur possibilities. Worrying what other people care about definitely clouds our vision. So does sticking to only what we know. And if we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re not lucky enough for opportunity, well, then we’re probably not on the lookout for one.

But you can change that. Grab some overalls and let’s get to work.

ARE YOU READY FOR AN OPPORTUNITY?
First, reset what opportunity means. In plain terms, it’s a chance to make a difference for yourself and/or for someone else. That’s it in a nutshell. We can change something — usually for the better.

The form it comes in is specific to what matters to us as individuals. And whether we can see it or not depends on how we think and act. Here are three ways to check if you’re in opportunity mode or not.

1. Say something new comes along in your life. Do any of these immediate reactions sound like you?
• “I can’t deal with that right now.”
• “How do I get out of this?”
• “It can’t be good.”
• “Now what?”
Maybe you have too much on your plate, or you’re going through a rough patch, making change seem untenable. But if this is your typical response, your ability to see opportunity is diminished.

2. What’s your attitude toward accepting things as they are? Do you generally say to yourself:
• “Could be better, but could be worse. I can handle it.”
• “I don’t like to rock the boat.”
• “I can’t change it, so why bother?”
• “I wish someone would find a better way.”
These thoughts indicate that you’re probably not looking for opportunity. As wonderful as a change might be in your imagination, you aren’t letting go of what you know.

3. Do you think luck is only for the lucky? Yes? We agree. We believe that we make our own luck. Luck comes from being prepared. From identifying what you want, creating a plan, and working toward your goal. Luck comes from being flexible. From considering the impossible possible. Luck comes from putting yourself out there.

And when you’re out there — feeling, thinking, and acting lucky — you are seeing differently. You’re in a frame of mind that helps connect the dots of new possibilities.

LET’S CONNECT THOSE DOTS
So that nudge or hello or disappointment has come to be. You suspect there might be a there there, but you’re not sure. This is when we search for the relationship between seemingly unrelated things (which is usually where opportunities reside).

First, you need an open mind. We humans are quick to judge, so this takes practice.
Drop your biases. It can be refreshing to release a concept you long ago locked in a box as wrong or beneath you.
Lose self-consciousness. If you feel judged, you’ll think and act according to someone else’s rules.
Be a learner, not an expert. There is no right or wrong in possibility, only wonder.
Listen more than you talk. You’ll discover dots you didn’t know existed.

So you can engage your curiosity. Digging into a topic creates new ideas and improves perseverance. Here’s how to activate your curiosity.
Ask more questions. “Why?” and “Why not?” are fruitful inquiries. Questioning what you take for granted is another rich stomping ground.
Pay attention to something you’ve ignored. It never ceases to amaze us how interesting topics become once we know the backstory.
Try something new. You’re a blank slate ready to absorb and question and learn.

Then you’ll start to find patterns. Sometimes the connections leap out, but other times it helps to look at the dots from various angles.
Create clusters. What are the commonalities? The striking differences? Beyond physical properties, you could consider emotions, history, difficulty, reliability, cost, and any other aspect that describes the information.
Move things around. This makes it easy to spot too much or too little of something. When you arrange the clusters in different combinations, notice if a new rule emerges, or something new altogether. Is there a unique quality that stands out from the rest?

Now you’re seeing things differently. It’s the perfect time to ask questions like: How can this be improved? What if it could be…? Do we really need all that…? If we could start over we’d…

It doesn’t have to be a radical change — a small shift sometimes makes all the difference. And an opportunity is born.

Next: Are you running on a trust deficit?
Previous: How to escape the busyness trap

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