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As with adventurous life generally, entrepreneurship is real work. There are 1001 topics and details to master, strong demands on our time and the time of others, and frequent risk and stress. But all of this is naturally multiplied, and our work may be threatened overall, when our plans and expectations prove incorrect or impractical – and thus, when we must not only work, but redouble our efforts or even start again.
For this reason, identifying high-quality natural opportunities, whether for our careers or organizations, is an essential skill or ability, and a crucial early and periodic step in any effort, large or small. In fact, understanding initial and ongoing opportunity quality is not only a core evaluation in natural endeavor, human or otherwise, it is commonly the primary difference between failure, mere viability, and true success or impact.
Fortunately, superior opportunities normally share common characteristics, and this is true across both living nature and modern work and enterprise. While I won’t say that identifying high-quality opportunities is easy, it is not an overwhelming or unmanageable task. In fact, it can be a game-like process – challenging but also enjoyable.
This is in large part because we naturally have been identifying opportunities for as long as there have been people, and indeed long before. Given this, we are well-evolved for this work overall, and normally have a good intuition for welcoming opportunities – once we understand what to look for (and notably, just as in hunting and gathering). In any case, finding and pursuing high-quality natural opportunities is typically less work, and more rewarding, than seeking to seize, hold, or labor amid poorly selected or low-quality ones.
The Finding Natural Opportunities infographic above provides a useful model to demystify and accelerate the process of identifying high-quality opportunities. The approach can be applied at all levels of life and work, in nearly any domain, and to both endeavors planned and underway, reflecting its natural origins and broad utility. And while this five-step process is work and results are not guaranteed, there is good reason to believe the approach is apt to greatly aid in our identification, pursuit, and management of opportunities of all kinds.
Though the infographic is fairly straightforward and intuitive, let me elaborate on it briefly, by summarizing and discussing each of the model’s five steps or considerations:
1. Underserved or Untapped Area – the infographic begins with the idea that all good opportunities involve recognition of an area – or an existing or waiting process – that is significantly overlooked, untapped, underdeveloped, or underserved in some way relative to its potential. When this occurs, a meaningful natural opening is identified, where we might impactfully create, add, or increase value (with value understandable as benefit to someone or something, especially either net of or divided by costs). While this proposal may seem, and indeed is, a straightforward concept, it is important to note that many modern people and organizations do not use or leverage this basic idea and natural principle. Instead, we may work or focus on, and thus become enmeshed in, serving or maintaining status quo conditions, rather than the naturally more productive and rewarding work of finding and pursuing new openings to create or increase value.
2. Ability or Capability – the second key idea and process step in the graphic is the need to assess our ability or capability against potential openings, or our identified opportunities to increase value. The reasoning at work here is equally straightforward. Simply put, if we do not have significant current or potential ability to pursue or act valuably within the opening, it is probably not a good natural opportunity for us. However novel or well-intentioned our approach, we are apt to perform poorly in the area, and through the signalling effects of our efforts, invite competitors who have superior capability. Instead, we normally should continue to look for openings better suited to our abilities and resources. This may involve better clarifying our core capabilities or strengths, looking for opportunities in new areas or at different scales of effort (whether narrower or broader), or all of these things. And on this point, let me again emphasize that openings can involve wholly new endeavors or improvements to existing ones.
3. Motivation or Alignment – once you or your organization have identified one or more openings that are well-matched to your current or potential ability or capability, a third critical test and process step is gauging your motivation toward or alignment with the opportunity. Always, various actionable openings will have varying personal appeal or alignment with an organization’s mission (its core values and primary ambitions). Without strong motivation or alignment, it normally is best to pursue other opportunities. As with ability, this is because our performance or value delivery is likely to be weaker over time, especially against more driven competitors that are almost sure to find their way to any significant opportunity, once identified and acted upon.
4. Sustainability – with a strong or significant opening, for which we or our organizations are well-suited in ability and spirit, a fourth step and consideration is an assessment of whether our plans to pursue the opening are or can be made sustainable. With this term, I mean acting in ways that are relatively surefooted, certain, durable, and repeatable – and thus free of risky or fragile assumptions, steps, or resources. Sometimes, otherwise significant opportunities cannot be pursued in a sustainable way, and might be abandoned for this reason alone. However, perhaps in as many or more cases, added creativity and problem-solving can identify a sustainable approach (or opening) to pursue the opportunity, and this generally should be our default or initial action whenever facing risky or doubtful plans.
5. Progressivity – for an opportunity that passes these first four steps, or that has all of these first four qualities, it is essential to add a crucial fifth step and consideration. This is our ability to pursue the opening in time. Life and the world are rarely static or unchanging, and identified openings can mature, evolve, or even close. In particular, and as I have emphasized, openings can become filled by others or other organizations, requiring us to increase value or identify new openings in new or existing areas. For these reasons, it is essential that our plans to pursue and work within an opportunity are progressive. With this term, I mean cognizant that any opening and its larger environment are likely to change over time, through our actions or those of others, or more unexpectedly or independently. As such, our plans should include strong ideas not only about our initial or current actions, but also how we might either steadily increase value in the future, or ably, spiritedly, and durably adapt to new openings.
This five-step model and process for finding natural opportunities can greatly aid your actions in many areas of modern life and work. Inspired by natural evolutionary functioning, the approach may be far more powerful than a number of traditional methods for evaluating new ventures, products, and strategies.
As noted in the graphic, the approach also can be used to evaluate and score both potential and existing actions, operations, markets, and clients. This is because each should similarly and naturally have all five of these qualities, if they are true opportunities for natural growth, vibrant value creation, and enriching impact – and not merely paths of naturally commoditizing, marginalizing, or limiting immersion in the status quo.
When giving either new or existing opportunities a 0-5 score, you might consider dropping or rethinking any endeavor that is not at least a four. You might also plot or sort opportunities by both their scores and likely impact or size, so that you get a fuller or more holistic sense of both the quality and quantity of each opportunity.
Feel free to write to me with any questions you have on the model and its use.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of EconomicaNatura.