Five opportunities that exist in any situation

A hand, with 5 fingers

We know that problems contain opportunities and that looking for those opportunities will bring us the inspiration that inner leadership is all about. We also know that simply looking for those opportunities will improve morale and put us back in control. And we’ve seen some examples.

The next question is: what kinds of opportunity should we be looking for?

It turns out there are five basic types.

The first two are to ignore the problem (live with it) or walk away (exit the situation). These options might seem obvious but how often do we jump in and start fixing a problem without considering whether it really matters? How often do we waste time and effort on issues that would have been better left alone?

1. Sometimes ignoring a problem will be appropriate, simply because we have limited resources and higher priorities to deal with. Sometimes taking no action on an issue will send an important message about our priorities (to customers, employees, suppliers, or shareholders). Sometimes doing nothing is appropriate so that other people will take responsibility. And sometimes the best we can do is 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 bring more issues to deal with, but these might teach us more, lead us in a direction we care more about, or reward us better.

Therefore, when facing a new problem, our first question should always be to ask whether this issue is important enough to do something about.

If we decide we do want to take action then there are three more types of opportunity to look for:

3. One is to fix the problem. This means removing the issue and returning the situation to the way it was before. For business leaders this means getting the organisation out of the ditch and back on the same track as before. Increasing quality and reliability, cutting costs, or raising prices are standard ways of doing this.

4. Another type of opportunity is to address the issue in a way that improves on the way things were before. This response is about not only getting the organisation out of the ditch but also pointing it in a better, more productive direction. Corporate turnarounds, takeovers, and diversifications can be this kind of response.

5. Instead of finding better ways to fix the problem, a final type of response is to gain the ability to prevent the problem ever happening again. This is called resolving or transforming the situation: instead of fixing the heating or air conditioning system, or maintaining it better so it doesn’t break down as often, why not simply construct buildings in a way that means they don’t need heating or air conditioning?

As a strategic example of these three alternatives, consider occupancy rates. These 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, by focusing on either low cost or luxury customers, would Improve the business and increase occupancy by pointing the organisation in a new direction. And, Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft are all examples of how to Resolve or Transform the situation: by choosing not to own any taxis or hotels these companies no longer need to even consider occupancy rates!

Like good comedy, the improve and transform types of innovation are harder to find but also more disruptive and transformational if you can find them.

And even if you don’t find the equivalent of Airbnb or Uber with every issue that you face, simply looking for these five kinds of opportunity will bring the inspiration that is so important in a time of change.

Are you facing a problem today? Have you considered what your options might be under all five of these types of response?

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

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Photo By Marc Levin via

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