Do you wait until opportunity knocks, or are you constantly looking for the next break? Either way, traditionally, the fact you seek opportunity has a somewhat negative connotation. In the former scenario, you could be seen as passive and not hungry enough for results, and in the second, you might be seen a ruthless opportunist always on the look-out for the next opening to exploit.
This HBR article identifying the action logic for leaders described the role of the opportunist with distinct negativity.
"Our most comforting finding was that only 5% of the leaders in our sample were characterized by mistrust, egocentrism, and manipulation. We call these leaders Opportunists, a title that reflects their tendency to focus on personal wins and see the world and other people as opportunities to be exploited."
The Oxford Dictionary definition for 'opportunism' is: "The taking of opportunities as and when they arise, regardless of planning or principle."
When vision meets opportunity
I was working with a team many years ago when I wanted to buy in a customer service development plan. I had a $3000 budget. I approached half a dozen companies who quoted me in excess of $30,000, way above my budget. Meeting with the senior team, there was an air of defeat and I knew many were writing the plan off. I asked them to keep an open mind and not to shut down the possibilities. I knew there had to be a way to get this important learning to the team. I pushed the plan to the back of my mind and went about dealing with other pressing priorities.
A couple weeks later a colleague asked me if I was still interested in buying in customer development. I said yes, and she put me through to a company who had managed to access grant funding for the development I wanted. The upshot: I managed to buy in accredited development for a team of over 30 for under $1000.
I saw this as a timely opportunity, which I didn't hesitate to take advantage of. There were several things about this opportunity that made it an eventual success.
Here are the 5 characteristics of an opportunity you should seize:
1. It furthers your vision.
If you have a vision, you must be prepared to take opportunities which further your vision. Your plan isn't always going to materialize in quite the way you expect. You must be open to opportunities that come along, and more importantly, be prepared to seize them when they do.
2. It helps you grow in trust and patience.
Opportunities that help you to grow your business or meet your vision aren't always obvious. You have to develop a level of patience and trust, and open-mindedness which can often take practice. To develop patience and trust in business is key to weathering the uncertainty experienced, certainly in the early years.
3. It doesn't always look like you imagined.
I didn't know there was any kind of grant funding available to the kind of business I sourced the training for. I hadn't for a moment thought to look. While I was keeping an open mind, I had envisaged the solution would present itself as a way we would find ways to raise the $30,000 needed. Not in my wildest dreams did I think it would eventually cost us less than $1000. The opportunities that come your way may look nothing like you had originally imagined, or considered. Keeping an open mind is essential and pausing and considering before you say no is imperative.
4. It's a result of patience and trust.
You've heard the saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way." Patience and trust are some of the hardest characteristics to develop. But if you believe there is a way, and it's coming to you, then you have to develop patience and trust to sit in that uncomfortable place of waiting. If you close down the possibility because you currently can't see the way forward, then you simply haven't developed these traits quite yet.
5. It's a win/win opportunity.
This was not an opportunity that cost anyone anything. Everyone came out as a winner in the process. If you take an opportunity that you know is to the detriment to another, then you are on the wrong track. A successful opportunist will not act in a way that deliberately hurts someone else along the way.
You have to take opportunities if you are going to be successful in life and in business. In this new era of ethics and transparency, the most successful people will choose the opportunities that will empower, rather than detract from, themselves and others.