Five opportunities that exist in any situation

A hand, with 5 fingers

We know that problems contain opportunities and that finding these opportunities will bring us the inspiration that matters so much in this time of change.

We also know that simply looking for these opportunities is powerful — and we’ve seen some examples.

So the next question is: what kinds of opportunities should we be looking for? 

It turns out that there are five basic types.

The first two options are simply to ignore the problem or to walk away and leave. These might seem obvious. But how often do we jump in and start addressing an issue without first asking whether it really matters? How often do we waste time and effort on issues that would have been better left alone or that distracted us from our true priorities?

1. Sometimes ignoring a problem will be appropriate, simply because we have limited resources and other, higher priorities to deal with. Sometimes taking no action will send an important message to employees, suppliers, customers, or other stakeholders. Sometimes doing nothing is appropriate so that other people will take their responsibility. And in some situations the best we can do is to choose which problem we want to live with.

2. Sometimes it makes sense to walk away from a situation and focus our energies elsewhere. The new situation will not be perfect either — there will still be issues for us to address — but these might teach us more, reward us better, or lead us in a direction that we care more about.

Whenever we face a new issue our first question should always be “Does this matter enough for us to do something about it? Is it a priority for me?”

If we decide that it is important to take action then there are three more types of opportunity we can look for:

3. One is to simply fix the problem. This means removing the issue and restoring the situation to the way it was before. For businesses this means getting the organisation out of the ditch and back on the same track.
(Increasing quality or reliability, cutting costs, or raising prices are standard ways of achieving this.)

4. Another opportunity is to address the issue in a way that improves the situation compared with how it was before. This response gets the organisation out of the ditch and points it in a better direction.
(Corporate turnarounds, takeovers, diversifications, and strategic repositionings can be this kind of response.)

5. And a final response is to learn how to prevent the problem from ever arising in the first place — or prevent it from happening again. This is called resolving or transforming the situation: instead of fixing the broken heating or air conditioning system, or maintaining it better, this option would construct buildings in ways that mean they don’t need heating or air conditioning. As Sun Tzu said, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

As an example, occupancy rates are a strategic issue in the hotel, airline, and taxi industries. Advertising and promotions could provide a short-term Fix to boost occupancy. Repositioning the business to focus either on budget or luxury customers are ways to Improve occupancy by focusing the organisation in a new direction. And by choosing not to own any hotels or taxis, Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft have followed the Resolve or Transform approach: they no longer needed to worry about occupancy rates.

Looking for the possibilities under all these categories is a great way to find more options to move forward. Then you can choose the one that is best for you.

This is another step to becoming antifragile.

Are you facing a problem today? Have you looked for the five kinds of opportunities it might contain? How many options can you find under each heading?

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

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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

Photo By Alan Levine via

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