How to spot an opportunity may be the key entrepreneurial trait, but you can’t do it on an island. You can’t simply wait for inspiration to strike you out of the blue and for you to suddenly realize “what the world truly needs is…”
That is not how it works.
So, what do you do?
You begin, in what you may think is an usual place. You start by looking for opportunities by opening your mind.
This is harder for some people than others, and the explanation for that is simply human nature.
The longer you have been around, and the more successful you have been, the more difficult it is for you to accept new and/or different ideas and approaches, especially if those ideas don’t correspond with the way you see the universe.
When confronted with something that is not within your usual frame of reference, you are likely to say, “that will never work.”
You are confident in your (negative) assessment because you have been successful. (And you would not have been successful, if you didn’t understand the way the world worked, right?)
Welll, there are three problems with thinking this way, in addition to the obvious one—that you don’t have a patent on all knowledge that exists or ever will.
- Even if you have mastered your little corner of the universe, there are still millions of needs that still require solving, needs that will result in the creation of a new product or service.
- Success can make you lazy. If what you are doing is working, there is little reason to think things could be performed better, faster, cheaper or in some other more efficient way.
- Things change. To use an over-the-top example to make the point: It is terrific that you know all there is to know about VCRs, but if the world is moving on to digital recorders, that knowledge doesn’t do you any good.
This whole thing can be summed up like this: The way you think—especially if you have been successful—may have locked you into a tight little corner.
I am sure that for the longest time, back when the world was urged (and did) made it “a Blockbuster night,” the people at the video rental chain knew everything there was to know about renting movies. As a result, it would never even occur to them that someone could attack them (and their market) in a way they never thought of.
Knowing where to look is helpful, of course. Now, let talk about six different ways you can increase your focus.
Six chances of discovering a need
- Necessity. The cliché is right. Necessity really is the mother of invention. It is amazing how when you are out of work and the bills are coming due you suddenly find opportunities. The same thing is true when you have a pressing personal need. (You suffer a major illness and need a special diet and yet you can’t find anything on the supermarket shelves that you can eat that comes even remotely close to tasting good. And so you start creating meals for yourself, and others like you, and all of a sudden you have a thriving company.
- Pay attention. That sage, Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra, understood this perfectly when he said “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Opportunities are literally everywhere you look. You look out the window and see more and more examples of extreme weather, what kind of opportunities does that create? You walk down the street in one of our big cities and literally see proof we are on our way to becoming a miniority majority country. Is there something you can do with that fact?
- Bring back the suggestion box. Some of you are going to be too young to actually know what a suggestion box is, so let me explain. Employees (and customers) would write down on a small piece of paper ideas they had for improving the business they were dealing with and would place those ideas in a box that was in a prominent position within the store. The suggestion box was a wonderful idea (and one that could operate virtually today.)
- Think. It is amazing how many opportunities you can find, if you just give yourself some time to think.
- No negative Nellies. If you want your staff to come up with as many good ideas as possible, you need to support them. You don’t have to accept what they come up with—it is your company after all—but you can’t dismiss anything they suggest as “stupid” or “ill-conceived.” The moment you do, you will never get a good idea again.
- Study your competition. See what opportunities they are missing that you can take advantage of. And don’t forget to figure out what they are doing right, so you can improve upon it.
The more you practice these six things, the better you will get at them and the more you you will increase your chances of success.
Paul B. Brown, Contributor
I write on the best way to prepare for the future — by creating it.