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 to ignore the problem or walk away and leave. These options might seem obvious. But how often do we jump in and start to address an issue without first asking whether it is important? 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 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 — there will still be other issues for us to deal with. But handling these issues might teach us more, reward us better, or help us to create outcomes that we care about more.

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 resolving the issue and restoring the situation back to the way it was before. For a business this means getting the organisation out of the ditch and back on the same track.
(Increasing quality or reliability, cutting costs, and 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 take the steps that would have prevented the problem from arising in the first place — and will 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.” This option would mean that instead of fixing the broken heating or air conditioning system, or maintaining it better, a better approach would be to construct buildings in such a way that they don’t need heating or air conditioning

As an example of how all three options can be applied, occupancy rates are a strategic issue in the hotel, airline, and taxi industries. Advertising and promotions can provide a short-term Fix to boost occupancy. Repositioning the business to focus on budget or luxury customers would be ways to Improve occupancy by aligning 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 enables you to find more options to move forward. Then you can choose the one that is best for you.

Both these steps bring you closer to becoming antifragile.

Are you facing any problems today? Have you looked for the five kinds of opportunities they each contain? How many options can you think of 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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