Not every tricky situation we face will lead us to a world-changing innovation like penicillin or Uber.
But having an attitude that treats all problems as if they contain opportunities will bring us five important benefits:
- A feeling of inspiration and emotional engagement:
Looking for opportunities is generally more exciting and more inspiring than fixing problems. It builds emotional engagement and morale, which improves productivity and results.
As Napoleon once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Looking for the opportunities creates that hope.
- Deeper understanding:
Searching for the opportunities in a situation forces us to let go of our assumptions about the situation and search for deeper understanding. This will then be useful, no matter what direction we decide to move forward in.
- 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, learn to look for the ten types of opportunities that lie beyond the obvious solution and the quick fix.
- More choice, more control, and more determination:
By choosing not just to see ‘problems’ but to look for the opportunities in a situation you retain more control over your destiny. Even if you then end up choosing the same path as before, you now make it your deliberate choice, from a wider range of options, rather than something you were forced into. This puts you back in control.
Even if this way forward isn’t ideal, the fact that you have looked for the opportunities means it is the best available option. And that will add vigour and determination to your actions.
Looking for the opportunities in a situation is another step to 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 under stress we call ‘robust’, ‘strong, or ‘resilient’. And objects, people, and organisations that can actually use stress to become stronger and more valuable, Taleb calls ‘antifragile’.
The first step to becoming antifragile is to look for the opportunities.
Together, these five ideas lie at the heart of Inner Leadership: generating more inspiration, building deeper understanding, staying in control, and finding better ways forward that will last. And ultimately it’s about learning to use any situation to make ourselves and our organisations antifragile, able to use change to become stronger and more valuable.
All this begins in the moment when we decide simply to look for the opportunities in a crisis.
Would any of these benefits be useful to you right now? Will you at least look for the opportunities in the difficulties you currently face?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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(And remember: you can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also have to do the practice.)