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.

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 are to ignore the problem or walk away and leave the situation. 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 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 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 — but these might teach us more, reward us better, or lead us in a direction 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?”

If we decide that it is important to take action then there are three more types of opportunity that 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 to achieve this.)

4. Another opportunity is to address the issue in a way that improves the situation over the way it was before. This response gets the organisation out of the ditch and points it in a better, more productive 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 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 be to 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 pointing 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 possibilities under all these headings is a great way to find more options to move forward. Then you can choose the one that is best for you — and know that even if it isn’t ideal it is still the best option available.

This is another step towards improving your antifragility.

Are you facing a problem today? Have you looked for the five kinds of opportunities it might contain?

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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