Five benefits of looking for the opportunities in a crisis

John Cleese and Michael Palin perform the Dead Parrot sketch:

We’re not going to discover penicillin or invent Uber with every tricky situation we face. But, whether or not we find a world-changing solution, having an attitude that approaches problems as if they contain opportunities will immediately bring us five important benefits.

Those benefits are:

  1. A feeling of inspiration and emotional engagement
    Seeking to do more than just fix a problem brings us inspiration and emotional engagement. It’s more fun. This positive attitude is exciting to be around and it’s good for morale, which improves productivity and results.
    “A leader,” Napoleon said, “is a dealer in hope.” Just looking for the opportunities begins to create that hope.
  2. Deeper understanding
    Searching for the opportunities in a situation forces us to let go of our mistaken assumptions about a situation and look past the surface symptoms to seek a deeper understanding. Once we find it, this deeper understanding will be useful no matter what direction we decide to move forward in.
  3. Greater durability and impact
    When John Cleese was writing sketches with the Monty Python team his colleagues would often stop when they got to the first punchline. Cleese would keep working until he found the second, third, or even fifth level of comedy. This was harder work and took longer, but the results he created were stronger, funnier, and longer lasting.
    If you want to generate outcomes that are more remarkable, last longer, or connect at a deeper level than your competitors, look for the opportunities that lie beyond the obvious solution or the quick fix.
  4. More choice, control, and determination
    By looking for the opportunities in a situation you retain more control over your own destiny. The opportunities you find bring you new possibilities to choose from. Then, even if you choose to move forward in the same direction as you would have done, it then becomes a deliberate choice you have made rather than a reflex you were forced into. By exploring more possible alternatives, you also become more confident you have chosen the best available way forward, which brings added vigour to your implementation.
  5. Antifragility
    Looking for the opportunities in a situation is a step towards making us and our organisations what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls ‘antifragile’.
    Objects, people, and organisations that break under stress we call ‘fragile’. Objects, people, and organisations that survive when placed under stress we call ‘robust’, ‘strong, or ‘resilient’. And objects, people, and organisations that actually become stronger under stress, Taleb calls ‘antifragile’.
    By choosing to look for the opportunities in a situation we take the first step to making ourselves antifragile.

In a way this is what Inner Leadership is all about: enabling ourselves to generate inspiration and emotional engagement, to build deeper understanding, remain in control, and look for robust ways forward that last. And ultimately, learning to use the stress of any situation to make ourselves and our organisations stronger, antifragile.

That journey begins the moment you decide to look for the opportunities in a crisis — even if you don’t find one.

Are any of these five benefits useful to you? Which would be most useful? How could you best look for the opportunities contained in a crisis you face today? Who would you need to involve?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Eduardo Unda-Sanzana via

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