3 Simple Ways to Find Opportunity
How to accelerate your success.
There’s way too much focus on failure. A not so old saying claims you need to fail X amount of times before you can succeed. Success and failure doesn’t have to be so binary. Furthermore, what’s intriguing about unexploited strengths and opportunities is how you can miss them. If you’re too focused on improving your weaknesses, you forget you have unique strengths. How can you find opportunities only by focusing on your weaknesses? With big projects, when do you exactly fail? Why wait until the final failure? Opportunities are vehicles to accelerate your success if you’re able to find them. Let’s explore 3 simple ways to find opportunity.
In the engineering world, there is a problem solving tool called Gage R&R, or Repeatability and Reproducibility. This method helps measure the amount of variability in the measurements of the operator(s), the parts, and the system itself. Engineering shows there’s going to be variation everywhere. Repetition and reproduction trigger variation, and variation makes for defects. However, how often do engineers spot a positive output? When you’re so invested finding what doesn’t work, you miss the opportunities. And even when you’re able to look back to find them, it’s hard not to keep going forward. Fortunately, we’ll explore a simple method to find opportunities: to repeat, to reproduce, and a third, to reverse.
Consider the following elements at play. If failure means loss or not meeting a goal, then success means to gain or to meet the goal. If risk means the possibility to lose or fail, then opportunity is the possibility to gain or succeed. Maximizing the probability to find opportunity lies in your ability to detect what’s working unexpectedly well or yielding more value. While we’re still interested in minimizing risks, opportunity happens when we’re able to recognize them. When you don’t act on a possibility to gain, it’s a missed opportunity. To find opportunity, consider the following:
The fact is anything you do is probably made up of many tiny decisions and actions. When you tackle big projects or goals, you’re going to do a lot of trial and error. To find opportunities, you need to recognize when your trials produce an unexpected result, a potential to try something differently next time, or simply help you understand the process more clearly. Practice makes perfect. Repetition uncovers opportunity.
So before you get convinced you need to fail big to succeed, first consider exploiting the information you get from all the tiny setbacks within every single business or project. Just like compound interest considers both the initial principal and accumulated interest, you can also pick up new learning in each step of the way. Instead of expecting to fail in X amount of startups or projects, expect to iterate a lot so you fail often and early within a startup in order to change direction to a path where you will succeed. To find opportunities, you need to repeat. Opportunity = action + knowledge. Increased Opportunity = better action + more knowledge. Fail small. Don’t wait to fail big.
When you focus on an inflexible end goal, and disregard the new information (knowledge) stemming from your actions, then you miss opportunities. You miss the chance to veer toward success. Repeatability requires you to be flexible. To be able to flex, allow yourself to change direction and improvise. Focus on the one thing with most leverage at a time. Learn and repeat.
Reproducibility is the ability to repeat across domains. To accelerate your success, set up your goals to be applicable in a larger scale. Think globally, act locally. Reproducibility is about being able to replicate your success somewhere else. For instance, you can choose to study a degree that will be certified in other countries. You can choose to start a business that is scalable and not limited by the immediate location. You can learn skills that will be useful in a variety of fields. Or you can pursue jobs that will be attractive for future employers. Even businesses pursue horizontal integration. Think about how you can make the actions that you invest in today reproducible tomorrow.
In the near past, many parents that migrated to countries like the United States didn’t teach their children their native languages. Afraid that their kids wouldn’t fit into the new culture, they spoke to them only in English. It’s understandable. Not so long ago some school teachers would punish students who spoke anything other than English. Grandparents and parents hesitated to pass down something so valuable as language to their offspring. They missed this reproducible opportunity. When you teach or learn from others, you’re at the source of reproducibility. Opportunities become possible when you learn something you didn’t know.
Reproducibility is not only the ability to apply your skills to different areas of your life, but to exploit them. For example, I’m reproducing some of my engineering skills by writing about how they can help accelerate your success. I’ve also written about chess, math, brewing, nature, etc. How can you reproduce your abilities, skill set, and crafts to accelerate success?
To accelerate your success, you need to learn from past successes. Have you ever wondered why you didn’t do something that worked well twice? There probably was some risk involved, but missed opportunities often happen when you’re fatigued, focused on risks, or burdened by information overload. Mostly though, missed opportunities arise from a lack of awareness of the repeatability or reproducibility of success. Reversibility is about reflecting on past successes. Which skills have you applied successfully? In which scenarios have you achieved big goals? What circumstances were the most favorable in the past?
Are you familiar with the term reverse engineering? To reverse engineer means you deconstruct the products of your competition. Then you can analyze how they built it so that you can build it too, and even improve upon it. With the amount of information accessible, you can reverse engineer other peoples’ success, but most importantly, you can look back at the things you have excelled at, and bring them back with some original twist. If opportunities had a common denominator, what would it be? Opportunities stem mostly from unconventional thinking. Consider the following:
- Peter Thiel’s famous contrarian question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on? (Contrarian thinking)
- Look for intersections. Like Pizza ∩ Bowl = Chicago-style Deep-dish pizza. (Intersections)
- Patterns and trends. Find what the trend is and explore new patterns. (Pattern recognition)
- Mindset of possibility and promotion, rather than on risk and prevention, with due diligence. (Promotion mindset)
- What needs/wants will serve the most people or what big problem can you find and solve. (Value)
- Which methods, tools, or knowledge can leverage an unconsidered possibility into opportunity. (Leverage)
How can you accelerate your growth by implementing what has worked before? Innovation = past success + twist. The twist is the fun component of success. To mimic a past success in an improved way, you need to consider the sum of your experiences. Think about which new skills, ideas, and resources can be meshed to produce something new! Innovation doesn’t have to be a breakthrough. Opportunity is masked in the form of people’s headaches. What do people complain about? Which services or products could you improve? What frustrations and problems could you solve? This is perhaps the most simple way to find opportunity!
There is no doubt that to find opportunity, you need to work extremely hard. Success is built over time, with effort and commitment. To find opportunities, you must leverage the power of repeatability, reproducibility, and reversibility. Repeat action and learn each time. Go small, make tiny bets, reiterate a lot. Also, choose to fabricate action that is reproducible. Make all the energy you spend have staying power. Finally, don’t hesitate to look in the rear view mirror while still heading toward the future. These 3 simple ways to find opportunity will help you become more curious, expansive, reflective, and yes—more successful!
Juan F. Diaz
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This is brilliant! Wow.
I look forward to rereading it, sharing it with my assistant, and putting it to some practical use immediately.*
Greatly appreciated. — Alex
“The engineer is a scientist of failure.”
* fortunately I have set aside a little time every week for “thinking.”
Thanks Alex! I appreciate you reading it!
Let me know how it goes.