Tag Archives: opportunity

5 Reasons You Can’t Find Opportunities

One of the activities we put so much energy into is finding opportunity.  We will spend an enormous amount of money and years of our lives to earn a college degree, in the hope of creating opportunity for ourselves.  Others choose to work long hours, travel extensively for the company and tackle difficult problems to earn access to opportunity.  Yet, others search and search for opportunity in another company or job, repeating this many times during their career.  But what if opportunity isn’t that complicated?  What if it is all around us but we just don’t see it for what it is?  Here is a look at one week in my life and the opportunities I came across.  I write all of them down in a notebook.  Opportunity is everywhere.  The question really is “what will you do with it?”

From my notebook:

On Sunday, I was mowing my lawn when a neighbor came across the street to talk to me.  He had a brilliant idea for a business and wanted to know what I thought about it. 

On Tuesday, a friend emailed me an idea for a mobile app.  She knows I started a Mobile apps development group. 

On Wednesday, an acquaintance emailed me an idea for a new book.  Just a few hours later, she sent an outline for the book.

On Friday morning, a business partner sent me an idea for a new product.  He wanted to create the product but wanted me to do marketing and distribution.

This is a typical week for me.  A few years ago, if you would have asked me how many opportunities I get in a week, I would have said I had no idea.  I wasn’t paying attention to what people were giving me.  Now, I log every single idea in a book I carry with me everywhere.  I won’t let an idea die without some consideration.  Of course, they are never dead as long as they remain in my book for consideration every month.  Opportunities are everywhere.  So why don’t we see them?

Fear.  Fear destroys our vision.  I have a close friend who has spent a lot of money and time earning college degrees in the hopes of moving up into a management role.  He’s been sitting in the same job he had before his MBA for 5 years now.  I’ve asked him so many times “What are you waiting on?  Opportunity? How long will you wait?”  He had invested so much into those credentials and is now burdened with a student load debt that feels like a mortgage, which he must pay with the same salary he had before the MBA.  His greatest fears are enveloped by the fact that he doesn’t know where to go or what to do.  What if he changes companies and it doesn’t work out? What if he asks for a raise or promotion and they say NO? The “what-if” syndrome keeps him locked in his own prison.  My “what if” question to him was “what if the opportunity never comes?”

Failure.  There’s no better teacher than failure.  Unfortunately, it can leave an everlasting distaste for taking risk.  One of the best stories I’ve ever heard about this was from Tom Stanley’s book, The Millionaire Mind.  In this book, he describes a situation where millionaires were sharing their story with each other.  One salesman stands up and begins to tell a yarn about the numerous sales jobs he had.  In his first job he learned about quotas and what can happen to you if you don’t meet yours.  On and on he goes about each job and how it didn’t work.  When he was describing job #5, someone in the circle of friends mentioned that he should just quit trying to be a salesman.  When he got to job #9, he mentioned he found the right company where he could be successful.  Then, after a year or two, he quit and started his own company.  Now, what if he would have quit at job #5?  Well, he wouldn’t be a millionaire sharing his story.  Don’t let failure imprison your ability to take risk.

Perspective.  Learning to spot opportunity requires some intentional conditioning.  Most people look for opportunities from their employer.  The bad part about this approach is that even though companies create processes to measure performance on a yearly basis, it rarely leads to opportunity for you.  This is also the reason most employees are unhappy with their work.  Jobs are unfulfilling and offer little personal growth.  So why do we only look to the company for opportunity?  It’s easy.  We know the process.  To see the opportunity that exists in your world, you need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, where everyone around has the potential to help you grow and develop.  As in my week described above, others offered numerous opportunities for me to build new skills, such as writing, marketing, sales and so on.  Which ones should I take?  The choice is mine.  Isn’t that the situation you want to be in?

Confidence.  By nature, most of us are followers.  In another post, I mentioned that the Wharton School of Business published statistics that indicated about 7% of the MBA graduates went into entrepreneurship.  That implies that 93% would be going to work for an existing company in the corporate world.  Why?  It’s safe.  Sure we have just built some awesome skills that will lead us to great success but we don’t want to put them to the real test where we risk everything if we fail, like when starting your own company.  As a follower, we wait to be told what to do.  So, I don’t get a promotion until my boss says I get one.  I won’t even consider asking for one.  This trained behavior keeps us from considering opportunities that others present to us.  Our lack of confidence in our own abilities makes the opportunity sound completely absurd.  Yet, many of us sit inside companies and shake our heads at those in leadership roles.  Can you really do any worse?  You won’t know until you try.

Bias.  When it comes to the future, we all think way too narrowly.  We make a single estimation about what our opportunities will be and then we close our minds.  We seek closure on this prediction because it’s easy.  Instead of exploring risks and uncertainties, we sum of our path to success in one single swoop and close the question.  The problem is that we have a strong tendency to be overconfident in our estimations, which leads to considerable error (and lack of action in the case of your career).  In the Harvard Business Review article “Outsmart Your Own Bias,” the authors propose a simple process for “nudging” your gut feelings which we fail to test sufficiently.

Since I began looking, I’ve found opportunity just about everywhere.  I have friends at the gym who always bring me business and product ideas.  Spotting opportunities is similar to the phenomenon we experience when we buy a new car.  Suddenly, we see our car everywhere.  But we didn’t see it before we bought it.  Why?  You’re looking now.  Opportunity is no different.  Open your eyes and see.  It’s right in front on you.  Then, you’ll just have to ask yourself one question “what shall I do with it?”

Defining Your Value to Your Company is Crap

The problem with defining our value as a working professional is that most of us tend to do this by highlighting our credentials and allowing our audience to interpret how these accolades can benefit their situation. This can lead to misinterpretation or a downgrading of the true value you offer. More importantly, in today’s society of an instantaneous communication process, it’s more likely to deter your audience from reading your credentials altogether.
As technology expands into new horizons, it focuses on making communications faster and faster. Unfortunately, it means that we will include less and less information but we will convince ourselves that we can make better decisions that way. While I’m not sold on this idea, I think it’s important that we all understand the power of brief messages. Twitter type communications will create an impatient and “get to the point” audience. So, do you want to utilize the little time you’ll have in communicating your value by telling them about your credentials or do you want to briefly describe the benefits you’ll provide that they need?

When it comes to drawing interest from your employer, they are only interested in 3 things: making money, reducing cost and getting someone to do the crap they don’t want to do. If you can develop all of your marketing materials around these ideas, you’ll attract a lot more attention to your skill sets.

Making Money. This is your company’s purpose. There’s no greater value than someone who can generate revenue for their company. Usually, we look to sales people as the creators of growth in the company, which is why they get paid so well. But they aren’t the only ones who can demonstrate this value. You can create products, services, intellectual property, ideas, etc. I had a close friend who earned an MBA the same time I did. He took his new knowledge to the marketing department and helped them solve one of their toughest problems. He took that evidence to the CEO and got a $10,000 raise that week. It’s that easy. Don’t tell them how you can make money. Give them a little example of it. Then, tell them what it is worth to them. Once you put the money in the bank, send me some, since I gave you the idea.

Reducing cost. This is another huge activity companies engage in all the time. If they can reduce the cost to build the products and services, they can improve their margins and make more money. In my first job out of college, I asked my company to fire a contractor they had hired to do some programming for their industrial controls. You know, the software that keeps a production line running that builds products. Anyhow, my company was installing 10 new production lines in a large scale project. The contractor would program a production line, then charge my company money for putting the same program in the next production line. I told the company I could save them $30,000 on each production line. After I proved it, they gave me the project to run. Find better ways to do things with less effort and less time and you’re likely to find yourself in a much better financial position.

The Crap. This is my favorite part of defining your value. Most people don’t consider this to be of value but it’s a great skill to have in your toolbox. Businesses don’t run smoothly. I don’t care how many Harvard grads they hire (and I’ve worked under a few). They will run into obstacles. And when they run into obstacles, it costs the company money to figure out how to get around them. Why? If the problem is spotted near the top of the organization, they’ll contract a consultant to solve the problem who may know less about it than they do. Sometimes companies even create their own problems. I know…it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve seen companies buy smaller companies, then fire the sales people. Strangely, they can’t sell any products because they don’t understand the market or the customers. Step up and help out.  Opportunities for helping here are abundant.

There are other times you can demonstrate some valuable skills, such as dealing with a “pain in the butt” customer. Companies have to show growth which means sometimes they have to work with customers they would rather not work with because they need the revenue. So they take the work. Here’s your opportunity. These are just a couple of examples of the kind of crap organizations get into in the quest for money. Most of the time no one wants to deal with such headaches. We all want the easy work that allows us to work on our “Career Plan B” during the day. I’m not saying you should sign up to handle all of the crap but it does have value. Here are a few kinds of crap dealing skills you can boast:

• Solving problems
• Dealing with difficult situations
• Creating and Leading Change
• Training and managing new people
• Working with other cultures

Defining your value can be done in just a few steps. First, consider the areas I discussed above. What skills do you possess related to these areas? Write them down. Then, take some time to think about what tangible evidence you have related to each one. What accomplishments prove you have the skill? If you don’t have any supporting evidence, go get some. Find opportunities by talking with other groups in your company about the problems they have. Help solve the issues. You might even take ownership of it and drive it to resolution. Lastly, deliver this info to those who can reward you for your efforts. That’s it….skills, evidence, and delivery.

Where do you market this value? Everywhere. Online profiles, cv/resumes, performance reviews, friends, etc. are great locations for your value. When people know what value you can provide, they’ll keep an eye out for opportunities to use your value, especially when it benefits them. Oh, and remember, getting all the crap jobs at work might not be so bad. It just might be a key definition of your contribution to the company.

Where Does Opportunity Grow?

During a recent speech to college students, I was asked several questions at the end that told me they were searching for the source of opportunity.  Who isn’t it, right?  There are so many possible career paths that this is really a hard question to answer.  I decided to take a look at my own customer base to get some idea where opportunities have come from.  Here’s what I found.

First, let me say that this is not statistically accurate.  This is only my assessment of my own business and I don’t recommend you extrapolate it too far.  It’s intended to provide some insight into possible locations for your next opportunity or, at least, provide support for a strategy.

To understand where success was coming from, I took a look at the pre and post profiles of all of my past clients.  I was particularly interested in reviewing what they wanted and how they went about getting it.  Then, I looked for commonalities in their approach.  The graph below shows the results.  Note that I grouped the opportunities by strategy.  The “sit and wait” strategy is one where a certain amount of effort is initially expended before any opportunity can be obtained.  For example, many clients come to us seeking a raise or promotion in their existing company.  They had accomplished many things in their jobs and even built a great reputation.  Yet, this effort didn’t seem to lead to any major gains in income.  So many people couch themselves in this type of situation for years; that is, they settle for a job when they want a career.  It’s a low return proposition.  If you’ve been in a company for years and haven’t reeled in any great opportunities, “sit and wait” is probably the only method that will really work for you, but why waste the good years of your life on that approach.

The second bar on the graph was from business owners who chose to invest in SEO, online marketing, etc.  It does provide results, 6.5% in this case, but you can’t make huge leaps and bounds with it.  You might think I wouldn’t be saying that this since my company does offer such services.  I’m just letting you know what we’ve learned.  That’s what a coach does.  As for job seekers, we see many of those.  However, their results of creating ideal profiles in social media space don’t provide those huge returns you may read about on the web.  There’s just too much competition.

When you look at the graph, you don’t really see big success until you reach the “Go Get It” strategies shown in Green.  In reviewing these clients, their strategy involved two very important things:  people and action.  It was striking to see the improvements in success as our clients engaged in activities directly with real people, not the virtual ones.  Opportunities are more likely to be found or created when you are directly in front of people, not connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook.

People do business with people they know and trust.

With our entrepreneurial group, we’ve seen considerable success creation when business owners are connected, such as with partnering to sell complementary services to expand their customer base.  Each owner could easily chase new customers on the web, but it’s much faster when you directly engage with a known group of buyers.

Lastly, action is a big key to building greater success.  Earning a degree, starting a company or getting a new job in a new industry seemed to give our clients feelings of great success.  I suspect much of this is due to the fact that these very intentional and all-encompassing activities put the full use of their power and talents to work.

opportunity

One of my favorite speakers, Jim Rohn, once said “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”  Constant action with people will bring you your greatest success.  Remember, people will allow you to do anything you want.  If you want to sit and wait, they’ll let you do just that.  They might think that’s what you want to do.  If building greater success in life is what you seek, you have to define it and then go find people who can help you get it.

Opportunity is everywhere.  Where are you looking?

Here are a few lessons from my analysis to keep in mind as you consider how to approach new opportunities.

  1. Be active. I know updating social profiles and networking online are touted as the keys to greater success. They are important but it really isn’t an active process because it relies on someone finding your profile and viewing it.  Most people on LinkedIn are looking to receive opportunities, not give them away.  What are you doing today?
  2. Engage with people. Business started out with direct interactions between people.  It’s still the most effective way.  You can ignore an email but it’s a little harder to ignore a face-to-face request.  Who did you reach out to today?
  3. Change methods. If your current methods aren’t working for you, change them.  Don’t stay in a job for 5 years waiting on a promotion.  Go find one somewhere else.  What changes have you made today?
  4. Consider a coach or mentor. Most people use coaches and mentors because they push them to action.  Find someone who will help guide and push you to do what you should be doing on your own.  Eventually, you’ll build the habits you need to manage your career.  Who is helping you find your opportunity?
  5. It’s a lifestyle. Pushing yourself to build your dreams into reality requires constant effort.  Most of us create new goals once we achieve old ones, encouraging ourselves to move onward and upward.  The habits you create in chasing opportunity will serve you well your whole life and create the perception that others will develop of you.  How do others see you?
  6. Assess your surroundings. Having studied high performers for many years, I’ve found that they level of success you achieve is a function of the success achieved by those around you.  If you surround yourself with high achievers, you’ll become one or they’ll kick you off the team.  Who is on your team?

Your opportunity is out there. 

What are you waiting for? 

Go Get It!