It can be tempting to look at successful people and think they've been luckier than everyone else. Maybe. But more likely they're just better at creating opportunities and opening doors. Here's advice from more than a dozen high-achieving executives on how to do it.
1. Perfect your ask.
"Leading a startup accelerator, I can tell you there is no denying the power of a great pitch. No matter your industry, role or goals, good listening skills are a necessity, but it's critical to perfect your ask. Have a well-honed standard for what you're good at, what you love to do, and what you're looking for, and take advantage of every opportunity where you can share that narrative with people who can open doors. Fortune favors the bold."
--Micah Kotch, managing director of URBAN-X, a startup accelerator backed by MINI, which invests $100,000 in up to 10 startups every six months
2. Learn by doing.
"Of course it's important to educate yourself by reading, learning new things, and talking to people. But in order to build a business and create more opportunities for yourself, you need to do more than just sit there, read, and think. You have to actually take action, test out your ideas and maybe even to fail in order to learn."
--Sissel Hansen, founder and CEO of Startup Guide, which has produced over 20 guidebooks across international cities to help more than 70,000 entrepreneurs navigate different startup scenes across the globe, with the first-ever U.S. based guidebook, "Startup Guide New York," coming out October 2018
3. Be curious.
"The best way to create opportunity is to look for things that capture your imagination or even things that frustrate you and find ways to improve them. For example, someone's impatience likely was a driving force behind the Nowait app for restaurants."
--Frank Poore, CEO of CommerceHub, a technology company that facilitates $16 billion a year in sales and helps retailers like Walmart, Best Buy, and Macy's grow online product assortments, promote and sell on channels, and fulfill and deliver orders
4. Get out of your comfort zone.
"A lot of people think that a lack of opportunity in their lives is due to a lack of luck. This isn't the case. One needs to make opportunities for themselves. How so? By surrounding themselves with other successful individuals, leaving their comfort zone, and living their best life. To become successful, I had to make my own opportunities in life, and I did so by living by those three rules. Successful people have winning habits and strategies. By surrounding yourself with them, you position yourself to gain that knowledge. Next, staying in an environment that you feel comfortable in is the easy way out. By not stepping out of your comfortable environment, new things will almost never come your way--you can't do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome. And third, if you live your life as though you already are the successful individual you know yourself to be, you will find yourself transformed, and opportunities will appear as a result."
--Amitabh Bose (Ambo), chief practice officer of CPG, retail and hospitality at Fractal Analytics, which serves Fortune 500 companies including Visa, P&G and Unilever
5. Create space.
"Create space for new opportunities to enter. The most successful people in life do not celebrate 'busy'--the number of hours worked in a week, the double-booked schedule, the number of boards served on or events attended. Those who are successful create opportunities by creating space--by saying 'no' to more commitments and 'yes,' to time to read, to think, and to be curious. One of the most effective steps to take is blocking out time on the calendar that can be used for journaling, meditation, and reading. This space allows us to get our thoughts on paper, process information, absorb new ideas, and seize opportunities that others may miss, since they did not make the time. Put only one item on your to-do list: create space to think."
--Doug Johnson, Denver chair of TIGER 21, a peer membership organization with more than 600 high-net-worth wealth creators and preservers; board member of Aviation Community Foundation, strategic advisor, and investor
6. Manage your time.
"A key part of creating opportunity for yourself is learning the art of time management. Everybody wants a piece of your time, so you need to clear all the clutter out and let go of the things that are not important. When possible, try to delegate less pressing tasks to others, so you are able to focus on your priorities. Other times, when you are trying to get something done, you'll often be faced with a roadblock. When this happens, you need to be creative about your approach and think about another way to get around the issue. Obvious approaches sometimes can lead to roadblocks or even failure, but that can be OK, because failure is often a precursor to success. Don't put all your eggs in one basket, and be willing to try a bunch of strategies. If you fail, don't give up. There is always a tomorrow. Don't waste time focusing on the rearview mirror. Keep focusing on what's ahead of you."
--Carl Rodrigues, CEO of SOTI, a provider of mobile and IoT device management solutions, with more than 17,000 enterprise customers and millions of devices managed worldwide
7. Exercise outdoors when traveling.
"Running a global business I often find myself in a new city or country almost every week. Being from Switzerland, I grew up with a love for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and running. It's a challenge always being in a new city and figuring out the best outdoor park or running path, to keep active while on the road. With technology and so many online guides, I can easily connect with these passion points in every new city. These outdoor activities connect me to my roots, keep me grounded, and give me the mental clarity to stay focused on the business."
--Adrian Dubler, CEO of Foap, a visual-content platform that connects brands and marketers with its global community of nearly three million content creators to generate visual content to increase campaign engagement and ROI
8. Be a problem solver.
"Great opportunities often arise from a small problem, whether it is one that affects you, your peers, or your industry. However, more often than not, these problems are sometimes treated as an annoyance and just part of life. But sometimes, a novel solution to a small annoyance could be a groundbreaking product. When problems arise, there are two types of people: one who complains about the current problem and gets frustrated, and one who still complains about the problem, but also comes up with a solution. The second type of person gets ahead in life much faster than the first. At the end of the day, always challenge the status quo--the current way of doing things isn't always the best. Great companies have been built with this simple concept in mind."
--Aman Sareen, co-founder and CEO of ZypMedia, which has assisted customers in 230 U.S. markets, enabling 2,900 sellers to offer audience-extension advertising solutions in the $150 billion local advertising market
9. Solve toughest challenges first.
"Align the toughest challenges and problems to when you have the most energy and brain power. This will help get the toughest issues solved and also make you feel a great sense of accomplishment. Responding to emails and phone calls during your non-peak energy time allows for the right focus."
--Sally Poblete, founder and CEO of Wellthie, a provider of technology solutions for brokers and insurance carriers, helping thousands of small businesses choose health insurance options for their employees
10. Schedule time to take care of yourself.
"It's your business to take care of yourself, so that you can take care of your business. Whether you are taking time for yourself with a midday swim, massage, or simply taking a walk around the block, insert your time away as a 'business meeting' on the calendar. This makes your time uninterruptable and nonnegotiable."
--Sharon Rowe, founder and CEO of Eco-Bags Products, a reusable bag company with millions sold, and the author of The Magic of Tiny Business: You Don't Have to Go Big to Make a Great Living
11. Embrace envy.
"Sometimes my biggest issue isn't about finding the right contacts or time for new opportunities, but about figuring out which opportunities I want to pursue in the first place. There are times I'm not even sure what's out there and what my options are. To get to this answer, I don't just look at my own life, but also take the time to think about the lives of those I envy. I think about the people--those I know and those I know of--who get to do things I want to do or live ways I want to live. Embracing envy... helps me expand from my relatively narrow set of options and experiences so that I have all kinds of new, exciting ideas to consider and pursue."
--Deirdre Maloney, author of four business and life satisfaction books, and president of Momentum LLC, an international training and business consulting company that has helped hundreds of leaders around the globe exceed their business goals
12. Say yes.
"Saying yes means allowing room for opportunity otherwise unseen. When you say yes to life, work, or even love, you are giving yourself permission to explore what's possible, while simultaneously learning something about who you are."
--Tricia Brouk, award-winning director, writer, filmmaker, TEDx producer and the founder of The Speaker Salon in New York City, where she has guided clients to 10 TEDx stages, 15 keynotes, and hundreds of speaking engagements
13. Tell everyone.
"When looking to make your next move, tell everyone you meet where you are going. People love to help others achieve their goals, but most have no interest in helping you figure out what that path is. I made the leap from a banker to chief meteorologist at a national cable network to creator of a new umbrella by telling people about my next goal. I am constantly thrilled with the amount of leads, ideas, and new contacts I come by just telling people where I am headed. Even if I don't know exactly how to get there, it becomes clear through following the leads of people whose path I cross."
--Rick Reichmuth, national TV meteorologist and founder of WeathermanUmbrella.com, which sold out of its first run of product in less than a month and was named winner of the 2018 Golf Digest Editors' Choice Award for Best Umbrella
14. Make time for deep work.
"With email, instant messaging, social media, meetings, and obligations outside of work, it is easy to get caught up in being busy. However, important opportunities rarely present themselves, and are rarely noticed, when we are busy. Find a time when you are most creative--whether it is on the train, in the middle of the day, or during a yoga class, and turn off everything else for those few hours a week. Set aside that uninterrupted time to sit with your thoughts or dive deep into your work. When you give yourself a break from constantly moving task to task, you grant yourself the space needed to explore new areas of interest, tap into your creativity and unearth the opportunities that will help you grow."
--Kristin Johnson, director of content and communications at Sprout Social, which offers deep social-media listening and analytics, social management, customer care, and advocacy solutions to more than 24,000 brands and agencies, including Evernote, adidas, West Elm and Edelman
15. Be courageous, confident, and self-disciplined.
"I believe opportunities are created when we are willing to speak up and do the work. This is why I value courage over confidence, and self-discipline over brilliance. How often are brilliant ideas unrealized due to poor execution? How many times is the solution locked in the mind of a person who fears being rejected or labeled unqualified? When we have the courage to share our ideas and the self-discipline to do the work, we will never have a shortage of opportunities."
--Jeff Ranalli, chief revenue officer at automotive ad tech company PureCars, which serves more than 3,000 dealers between the U.S. and Canada
16. Organize all aspects of life.
"It's always more difficult to take advantage of emerging business opportunities if things are out of control. If you're overstretched or unorganized, you probably won't be able to spot open doors. And even if you do spot them, you will likely lack the capacity to walk through them. So it's critical to stay on top of everything in your life: your relationships, your work, your budget, or finances. This organization affords you the necessary agility to both scout and pounce on growth opportunities. You'll have the relational support to chase them down, the bandwidth to dedicate to them, and the money needed to make them happen."
--Madelyn Newman, director of product and customer marketing at CallRail, a provider of call tracking and analytics to more than 100,000 companies and marketing agencies globally, which received $75 million in funding last fall