Missed opportunities usually aren’t missed simply because we can’t take advantage of them. In fact, it’s usually a knowledge problem, not an ability problem.
Problem 1: People Don’t Know How to Clarify an Opportunity
Usually, you find leaders taking a stab at a solution, rather than really trying to understand an opportunity, asking the hard questions about it.
Clarifying question can seem rude. Bluntness and the ability to question people’s words both lead to clarity, but people don’t like that.
They don’t know how to ask why to make sure they know how it fits their company goals. In fact, sometimes they’re not even clear about their own company goals, creating a second set of moving parts to contend with.
And if you don’t understand the opportunity, and you can’t clarify, you’ll probably let it pass you by.
Problem 2: Can’t Ask Strategically Relevant Questions
The habit of defaulting to best practices will keep you from approaching an opportunity in the most direct way possible. You won’t be able to adapt to a problem unless its within what you already understand how to do. And when you have a hammer, everything’s a nail.
Maybe you’re an MBA, but lack curiosity (a cardinal sin in strategic thinking). You know how to write something that looks like a SWOT, but it doesn’t end up being a tool that helps you do any real business math. Think: vague strengths, inability to use it as a processing tool for ideas, a lack of curiosity/energy that results in you quitting after 1 or 2 versions of the SWOT.
Problem 3: Can’t Get Relevant Answers
Too often, we lean on old research methods or we’re using research for the wrong reasons (as a crutch):
We lean on old methods, like ROI, which give us backward-looking info. Or maybe we’re used to doing quantitative research, but we have a question that can only be answered qualitatively.
We’re using research to protect us from blame instead of helping us take full advantage of the opportunities in front of us.
Problem 4: Failure to Decide
This is failure in leadership. It’s probably a lack of experience in making decisions. The leader is waiting for proof in order to be able to make a decision. This leads to business-as-usual. And you can hire all the fresh-thinking talent you want, but if the leadership is afraid of making decisions, none of that fresh thinking will turn into success.
Steps to Take
Get Clarity: Create an oversimplified view of the opportunity, just so you can play with the idea. Now you have clear boundaries, and you can get curious about details from there.
Now that you have clarity, come up with some strategically relevant questions that you can then go and research.
Ask “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could find out” questions before you start research. This way, you’ll be letting the opportunity determine the lines of questioning, rather than letting your default research method define it. In other words, you’ll find out what’s important, rather than what’s easiest to measure.
The last problem, failure to decide, just requires taking some changes, being curious and understanding the opportunities in front of you. Then you have to build your boldness by putting your money where your mouth is. Then, you’ll be building up the mental muscles necessary to make quicker, smarter decisions and become a leader people can follow.
Missing opportunities frustrates and discourages us, but improving in these areas can help you get a fresh perspective.
If you’re serious about getting better in these areas, don’t stop here. Write down some action items with deadlines and see if you have the heart for this kind of work.