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Strengthening Your Ability to Recognize Opportunities

Strengthening Your Ability to Recognize Opportunities

When you have the ability to recognize opportunity, you know how to identify promising changes unfolding around you, and you act to take advantage of them.

For example, you're back in college. One night you're out at the local pizza place with some classmates, and one of them mentions that her uncle just got a job as a manager at TelCo, a leading firm in the communications industry. You've just started conducting informational interviews with people in this industry, as you're considering a career in communications. So you promptly ask your classmate whether she'd be willing to introduce you to her uncle as a potential new contact.

A year later — after you've gotten a job as an engineer at TelCo (thanks to your savvy interviewing) — you're browsing through a trade journal one day in the company cafeteria during lunch. You come across an article describing an emerging technology that you realize could be used in one of the systems you're working on — and that would make the resulting product much cheaper than the current version. You investigate and ultimately incorporate the new technology into your design — creating a well-functioning product that costs less to manufacture and thus generates more profit for TelCo.

To strengthen your ability to recognize opportunity, consider these suggestions:

  • Read books, articles, and papers on the subject. Often, searching the archives of online journals, magazines, and newsletters can yield some helpful information. For instance, read this short but useful article on how to recognize opportunity. Also consider reading books written by or about venture capitalists. Their success hinges on their ability to identify and exploit promising business ideas. Potential titles include Venture Capital Due Diligence: A Guide to Making Smart Investment Choices and Increasing Your Portfolio Justin J. Camp and Venture Capital Investing: The Definitive Guide for Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Practitioners by Joel Cardis et al. Take a self-paced online course on the subject. Examples include the "Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management" course offered at

  • Online learning courses often introduce key concepts related to the topic, provide hands-on practice in related skills, and offer helpful tips and tools. Your employer may have a site license to such courses that you can access through your company's intranet. You may also be able to purchase individual CDs containing modules of interest to you, or download them from the Web for free or for a small fee.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone at school or at work who you view as particularly good at recognizing and acting on opportunities. Ask this person how he or she has improved this ability.

  • Attend a workshop, training session, or course on the subject. Your employer may offer some of these, or may be willing to fund your tuition if you take such a course. Your local adult education programs may also offer such courses and workshops.

  • Gain a wide variety of experiences. The more diverse your life experiences, the more you'll be able to see patterns and parallels across seemingly unrelated fields. These patterns and parallels enable you to identify and seize promising opportunities. For example, an entrepreneur trying to decide how to develop a new wireless networking technology remembers a scene in a favorite science fiction novel involving minuscule devices that achieve a collective intelligence by communicating with each other in a certain way. She conceives of a networking system that works in a similar manner — and the system proves a huge success in the marketplace.

  • Routinely take stock of what's changing in the business landscape. Stay current with new developments by talking with people in the know as well as reading articles on emerging developments.

  • Carve out time to think about opportunities. It's hard to recognize new opportunities when you're constantly immersed in life's daily chores and details. Designate time to step away from day-to-day pressures so that you can consider larger trends and their implications for your business.

  • View problems through a new lens. Many problems can be turned into opportunities. For example, an order-fulfillment error that irks an important customer seems like a nasty problem — but it's actually an opportunity to fix the error and make a valuable, permanent improvement to your company's order-processing system. Each time you encounter a problem, practice seeing it as a chance to make something better.

In an age of rapid change, people who can recognize and leverage new opportunities bring enormous value to their organizations. By practicing the strategies described above, you strengthen this ability and position yourself to advance your own and your company's success.