Five opportunities that exist in any situation

A hand, with 5 fingers

We know that problems contain opportunities. And we know that finding these opportunities will bring us more of 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 there are five types.

The first two options are simply to ignore the problem or to walk away from the situation entirely. These might seem like obvious answers but how often do we jump in and start to address an issue without first asking whether it is worth solving? How often do we spend time and effort on issues that would have been better ignored or which distracted us from our main priorities?

1. Sometimes ignoring a problem will be appropriate, simply because we have limited resources and other priorities matter more. 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 step up to their responsibilities. 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 — issues will still arise. But handling these issues might teach us more, reward us better, or enable us to create outcomes we care more about.

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

If we decide that it is important to take action there are then three more types of outcome we might try to create:

3. One is to simply fix the problem. This means resolving the issue and restoring the situation to the way it was before.
For a business this means getting the organisation out of the ditch and back on the same track. Standard ways to achieve this are by increasing quality or reliability, cutting costs, and raising prices.

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 take the steps that would have prevented the problem from arising in the first place — and can therefore prevent it from happening again. This is called resolving or transforming the situation.
As Sun Tzu said, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” The greatest general is the one who defeats the enemy without fighting.
This option would mean, for example, that instead of fixing the broken heating or air conditioning system, or improving the situation by carrying out preventative maintenance, we transform the situation by constructing buildings that do not need a heating or air conditioning system

Here’s another example. Occupancy rates have traditionally been an important strategic issue in the hotel, airline, and taxi industries. One way to improve occupancy is to use advertising and promotions to provide a short-term Fix that generates more customers. Another solution might be to reposition the business to focus either on budget or luxury segments: this could Improve occupancy by focusing the organisation around 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 need to care about occupancy rates. They have outsourced that risk to other people.

By looking for possibilities under these five categories you will expand your range of options. And you might find several options under each category. This will improve your morale. It will give you confidence that you have considered every possibility. And it might even show you a better way forward than you had seen before.

And then, when you choose the best way forward for you from among these different options, you will have taken two more steps towards becoming antifragile.

Are you facing any problems today? Have you looked for the five kinds of opportunities they 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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Photo By Alan Levine via

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