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Spotting Opportunities

It’s frustrating when opportunities are offered but the offeree can’t be bothered to check them out. It’s surprisingly common to see people deny themselves opportunities. In fact, it happened to me this week when I gave a prospective associate the opportunity to see if she’d like to do some work on a project for me. It was quite modest stuff, but she turned it down without finding out more. This was not because she was busy but she said that she either wanted to do the whole job or not at all.

To be successful in business you need to be able to recognise an opportunity when you see one. My best break was when I took up the type of opportunity I’ve just described. It didn’t yield much to start with but after two or three years the opportunities coming out of the relationship with that particular associate became a major source of income. It’s still working well to this day (some 19 years later) and my associate is also a great friend.

The secret to recognising opportunities is promotion focus. When you see your entrepreneurial venture, career, or goals being about the potential for advancement, achievement and rewards, you have a promotion focus.

If you approach your venture focused on not losing everything you’ve worked so hard for, on avoiding danger and keeping things running smoothly, you have a prevention focus. Prevention focus is good for many things — careful planning, accuracy, reliability, and thoroughness, just to name a few. But it doesn’t lead to creativity, open-mindedness, and the confidence to take chances the way promotion focus does.

In 2011, researchers asked 254 UK entrepreneurs from a variety of industries to take an assessment to determine their dominant focus, and to then demonstrate their opportunity-recognition skills1. The results painted a very clear picture: Promotion-focused entrepreneurs were better able to detect opportunities, generating more solutions to identified problems. In addition, and those solutions were judged to be more innovative than prevention-focused solutions.

How can you get better at spotting opportunities?

  • Write down several goals you have for your venture or for your career. For each goal, make a list of ways in which you will gain something if you are successful. Read through these goals and potential gains on a daily basis, or before undertaking any important task.
  • Picture yourself five or ten years down the road as you would ideally like to be. What are your aspirations? Your dreams? What do you hope to accomplish? Thinking about your ideal future self will put you in a promotion focus.
  • Reflect on your past. Think about a recent big win or accomplishment — a time when you felt really pumped up about what you were able to achieve. A time when you felt on top of the world. Thinking about our past gains puts us in a promotion focus.

Tumasjan, Andranik and Braun, Reiner, In the Eye of the Beholder: How Regulatory Focus and Self-Efficacy Interact in Influencing Opportunity Recognition (August 29, 2011). Journal of Business Venturing

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2017 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.

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