“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, if taken at the flood, leads on to fortune” and William Shakespeare in his play, Julius Caesar, neatly summarises the whole philosophy of opportunity.
Many wise things have been said by many wise sages about the need to redefine problems or mistakes in business as unleashing opportunities but at the time, the problem as such usually gets the nod for action. It’s called the sticking plaster solution.
It is the perennial issue of the chimp, the emotional brain, outweighing the human or rational brain at a time when rational thinking could well uncover the answer to a problem that in turn can develop into an opportunity.
Too often do we hear people saying “if only I had realised that if we had gone about it in a different way then perhaps…..”
The wondrous equation, E + R = O. that for me has been a life changer, can really come into its own at this stage.
It means Event + Response = Outcome and that can be looked at in two ways.
Firstly, if we react instinctively to a situation without prior thought then the outcome becomes very uncertain. Unconsidered reaction can lead to unexpected and undesired consequences.
Tempers flare, defence mechanisms strengthen, logic goes out of the window and positions become entrenched. None of this can be construed as satisfactory or leading to a mutually acceptable solution.
Indeed when we consider how a negotiation has gone in the cold light of day we can come to the conclusion that with a little foresight and self-control a more desirable outcome and a potential opportunity can be uncovered.
Indeed the best plan is to avoid looking into the situation from a superficial standpoint but rather from one where we can redefine the desired outcome and perceive it as an opportunity.
This means that E + R = O takes on a different aspect. In this case we now redefine it as accepting the event that has occurred and which cannot be changed as a consequence, defining the outcome that is the most satisfactory and then responding to achieve that outcome.
The dreaded thought at this stage is “Does this mean that I may have to compromise and will that make me look weak?”
If we start out by deciding on the purpose of the exercise as being a way to uncover an opportunity, perhaps even for both sides, then by no means does this imply weakness.
It is only weakness when we try to defend the indefensible that problems arise.
The trick is to go with Shakespeare’s strictures and look for opportunity in every problematical situation. When Thomas Edison was asked by colleagues how could he go through the trauma of thousands of futile experiments before finding the solution, he said “Because the next experiment may be the one that works”.
In exactly the same mode I recall a US-based Vistage chair colleague who would dive into virtually every company that he saw while driving, demand to see the CEO and then tell him/her that they should be a Vistage member.
When we, somewhat shocked, asked him how many times he got a positive response or even managed to see his prey, he told us, about one in a hundred.
He looked upon the method in the same way as Edison - highly inefficient perhaps but it was done absolutely with purpose.
A far better plan is to select a small number of open minded people in the business to do some blue-sky thinking. I heard of a UK-based Japanese owned high-tech company that used a think-tank of high end academics merely to think about market and/or product possibilities and then to pass the ideas on as opportunities for action.
When we take the tide at the flood, with purpose and positive action, then success is more likely than merely waiting and hoping for it to happen.
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