Looking For Opportunities

ENTREPRENEURS ARE A SPECIAL BREED – they are a brave lot who are willing to take risks and face an uncertain future, to start and manage their own companies. Perhaps they want out from the big corporation; perhaps they have ideals on how a company should be run and want to try their hands at it, or maybe they have a great business idea which they are sure will reap in the profits.

Opportunities are always knocking. The question is: “How does one recognize it, when it comes?”

Many entrepreneurs start a business when they are struck by a sudden bright idea – the miracle cure, the conceptual breakthrough. But this type of inspiration isn’t the source that entrepreneurs can generally rely on, or the sources that lend themselves to a process.

They are not repeatable on demand, cannot be taught and learned, and are seldom immediately applicable or even feasible. Leonard Da Vinci’s greatest works were mostly useless to him and his contemporaries because the technology wasn’t available to implement them and the society and economy weren’t prepared to accept them.

HOW TO POSITION YOURSELF FOR OPPORTUNITIES

If an opportunity does not drop on your lap, don’t fret. You can position yourself to be more susceptible to opportunities you are seeking. The following eight steps will put you where you want to be.

1. Decide what business area you want to be in.
2. Analyze the skills and knowledge required by that business.
3. Acquire them. LEARN at every opportunity.
4. Observe good examples of people in similar positions. Analyze their attitudes, your shortcomings and close the gap.
5. Test your knowledge and skills.
6. Become whatever it is you want to be and need to be.
7. Be around people in the business. Joint networks.
8. At the appropriate time, when you spot or sense the opportunity, go after it…

Opportunity search lies in looking for changes. Change is all around. More than that, we are facing change of unprecedented variety and intensity. And while some individuals and companies have prospered and grown in the midst of change, others have deteriorated and declined.

Why? Because successful individuals and companies recognize that things must change, and they position themselves to exploit these changes while others see change as only a threat and strive to protect themselves from it.

THE PROCESS

Great ideas shouldn’t be ignored when encountered, but neither should they be relied upon to assist in innovation. It’s like finding money in the street. You’re glad it was there and can certainly use it, but you wouldn’t leave your house hoping to find some to pay for the groceries that day!

There is an organized process to opportunity search. This removes the “hit or miss” danger, and reliance on that rare “flash of insight” or “breakthrough idea.” Decision Processes International, or DPI, an international management consulting firm which specializes in providing clients with processes to help them improve the quality of their strategic or operational decisions, gives ten areas of systematic search.

1. Unexpected Success, such as Ray Kroc’s pursuit of why he was selling so many milk shake machines to a place called McDonalds.
2. Unexpected Failure, such as Ford’s miss with the Edsel which should have alerted them to new objectives of the auto buyer, a change eventually exploited by the Mustang.
3. Unexpected External Events, such as the advent of AIDS which led to a boom in the rubber industry.
4. Process Weakness, such as the failure of the post office to provide a guaranteed system of next-day delivery, creating the phenomenal success story of federal Express.
5. Industry/Market Structure Changes, such as those undergone by the telephone industry, leading to the advent of CELCOM and other alternative carriers.
6. High Growth Areas, areas of the business growing faster than the population or user groups would otherwise justify, such as frozen foods dramatically increasing in sales, not because of new consumers, but because the two income family increases the need to have fast, easy-to-prepare dinners readily available.
7. Converging Technologies, such as the penetration of the video cassette recorder and the perfection of the technique to “color” classic black and white movies, creating new revenue opportunities for films gathering dust on the shelves
8. Demographic Change, in areas such as age, education, income, geography and buying mix, which has led to an entire industry catering to the recent phenomenon of the healthy, affluent retired.
9. Changes in Perception, which aren’t based on changing facts but rather changing interpretation of the facts, such as college students’ values changing from drop-out and protest to finding the best-paying job, leading to a growing industry in career planning for undergraduates.
10. New Knowledge, the rarest and most difficult source of innovation, such as Merck & Co, constantly researching new medical applications, having to achieve discovery, validation, government approval and distribution before parents expire, and thereby allowing generic drugs to compete at lower price.

PROCESS QUESTIONS

To seek opportunities in the various areas, we must first of all ask some process questions that will lead us to ferreting out the “hidden” opportunities. For example, some questions to ask in the area of Unexpected Success are:
* What unexpected product success have you had recently?
* In what geographic areas have you had unexpected success recently?
* In what market/industry segments have you experienced unexpected success recently?
* Which customer segments have provided unexpected success recently/
* What unexpected successes have your suppliers/competitors had recently?
* Which of your technologies have had unexpected success recently?
* Which unexpected customer/user groups have brought from you recently?
• Which unexpected sources have asked to sample/distribute/represent your product recently?

Another example is the following set of questions in the areas of Process Weakness:

* What self-contained processes exist in the organization?
* What weakness or “missing link” prevents better process performance?
* Why do some processes perform better at some times than at others?
* What bottlenecks does each of these processes have?

Then go on to ask the following questions:
* What opportunities and ideas can you develop from these unexpected successes/process weaknesses?
* What specific new product/service idea can you think of to satisfy this opportunity?
* What specific new customer/market segment could we serve?
* What specific new geographic markets could we seek?
* What specific new improvement programme could we develop?

INNOVATION

Innovation is the tool of entrepreneurs, and virtually anyone can be entrepreneurial. What differentiates the successful and the unsuccessful innovators is that the former have a system or follows certain principles. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts to remember when innovating. These are not rigid directives but rather a list of suggested guidelines that can help to improve the chances of success.

Do’s

1. Innovation needs strategic direction. There must be a “strategic fit” between any new opportunity and your current or intended business. Every business, over time, develops skills, expertise or a body of knowledge. Opportunities that exploit these strengths have a higher probability of succeeding. The further an opportunity strays form these, the less likely it will succeed.
2. Innovation is both conceptual and perceptual. Both the right (creative) and left (rational) brain are employed by the best innovators. Holistic thinking or the ability to see the “big picture” is a must.
3. The innovation must be perceived as bringing benefit to the person that counts most – the end user. Opportunity that brings value only to the provider is going to be short-lived. The innovation must provide win/win benefits for both parties.
4. Innovation, at first, must start small and be highly focused. It should do only one thing. Consumers can usually only swallow a little bit of innovation at a time. Rather than adding quantum leap features, you might do better by adding new features on an incremental basis over time. Continuous innovation is the key.
5. The best innovations start small. Do not start with grandiose expectations; aim at one specific target. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak certainly did not foresee a US$1 billion company when they assembled their first personal computer in their garage.
6. Innovation does, however, aim for leadership eventually. If the opportunity is innovative enough, not to aim for eventual leadership would be to rob it of its potential.

Don’ts

1. Don’t try to be clever. The patent office is full of clever ideas that never got off the paper they were written on. Evolution, not revolution, happens more frequently.
2. Don’t try to do too many things at once. The most successful innovators usually have singularity of purpose. Only geniuses like Da Vinci or Thomas Edison could innovate in a variety of different fields simultaneously.
3. Don’t wait until the innovation is 100 percent perfect. Launching an innovation in its “almost right” format is perfectly acceptable and highly recommendable. This is the only way to test it and find out what other improvements are required. The cost of making it “perfect” may not be justified and may, in fact, kill a good “almost right” opportunity.
4. Don’t innovate for the future. Innovate for the present! Immediate payback fuels continuous improvement and innovation.

So, recognize the role of innovation, learn the process and skills of innovating, and apply these innovative abilities on a regular disciplined basis. Don’t wait for opportunity – look for it and exploit it. It is untrue that opportunity knocks but once – it is constantly knocking. The problem is that most people simply ignore it, or open the door and don’t recognize it!

View a negative experience in your life like you’d look at a photo negative.
A single negative cancreate an unlimited number of positive prints.

– Gerhard Gschwandtner.

Anyone who would like to share their experience or give any feedback on this article, please do so…I would love to hear from you.

KC See

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