Five opportunities that exist in any situation

We know that problems contain opportunities and that those opportunities bring the inspiration that inner leadership is all about. We also know that simply looking for the opportunities in a situation improves morale and puts us back in control, and we’ve seen some examples.

The next question is, what kinds of opportunity should we look for?

It turns out there are five basic types.

The first two options are to ignore the problem (live with it) or to walk away (exit the situation). These options might seem unremarkable but we often overlook them. They remind us that we don’t have to fix every issue that arises:

1. Sometimes taking no action will send an important message about our priorities to customers, employees, suppliers, or shareholders. Sometimes it is appropriate to do nothing so that other people take responsibility. Sometimes ignoring a problem is the best thing to do simply because we have other higher priorities to deal with or because the best we can achieve is to choose which problem we want to live with.

2. Alternatively, if we have been dissatisfied with a situation for a long time, it might make sense to leave that situation and focus our energies elsewhere. This will bring new issues to deal with, but they may teach us more, reward us better, or point us in a direction that we care more about.

Alternatively, if we decide that we do want to take action to address an issue, there are three more opportunities we can look for:

3. One is to fix the problem. This means removing the issue and returning the situation to the way it was before the issue arose. For business leaders this equates to getting the organisation out of the ditch and back on the same track as before: fixing the customer relationship, repairing the broken equipment, cutting costs, raising prices, these are the standard responses.

4. Another type of opportunity is to address the issue in a way that improves on the original situation. This response is about getting the organisation out of the ditch and at the same time making it more productive or pointing it in a better direction. Corporate takeovers, turnarounds, and diversifications are often this kind of response.

5. A final type of response is to resolve or transform the situation in such a way that we prevent the issue from arising again. Instead of inventing better ways to dispose of rotting food, invent refrigeration.

Calling in the maintenance team to fix the broken heating or air-conditioning system is an example of the ‘fix’ type of response. Organising that team to carry out preventative maintenance is an ‘improve’ approach. Redesigning the building with increased insulation or natural ventilation so that it doesn’t need heating or cooling is an example of the ‘transform’ approach.

Sony’s development of the Walkman and CD-Walkman were smaller, more portable ways of playing existing cassettes and CDs, a ‘fix’ or ‘maintain’ response (to fix or maintain sales). The MP3 player was an ‘improve’ response: it did away with the need for CDs and tapes. And Spotify is a ‘transform’ innovation because it does away with the need for a specialised player device, as well as the CD or tape.

Switching to organisational strategy, occupancy rates can be a problem in the hotel, airline, and taxi industries. Advertising and promotions can provide a short-term ‘fix’. An ‘improve’ response would be to increase occupancy by pointing the organisation in a new direction and focus on a particular group of customers (such as low cost or luxury). Airbnb and Uber are the ‘resolve’ or ‘transform’ type of solution because they do away with the need to even think about occupancy rates, since the company does not own any taxis or hotels.

Notice that, like good comedy, the improve and transform types of innovation are harder to find but they are also more transformational or disruptive if you can find them.

If you are facing a crisis or problem situation, five possible responses are:

  1. Ignore the Problem or Live With the Situation
    When addressing the situation is not a priority for you, or not-addressing it is a priority.
  2. Leave the Situation
    Exit that market. Fire that customer/employer. Go somewhere else to address a set of issues that teach you more, reward you better, or that you care more about.
  3. Fix, Restore, or Maintain the Situation
    Remove the problem and get things back to how they were before.
  4. Improve the Situation
    Improve the situation compared to how it was before, by facing in a new direction.
  5. Resolve or Transform the Situation
    Learn how to behave in a way that stops the situation arising again.

You won’t be able to find the equivalent of Airbnb with every issue you face. But, by knowing what to look for, you widen your options and put yourself back in control.

Adapted from Inner Leadership.

Photo By Martin Abegglen via

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