We know that problems contain opportunities and that looking for those opportunities will bring the inspiration that inner leadership is all about. We also know that simply looking for the opportunities will improve morale and put us back in control. And we’ve seen some examples.
The next question is: what kinds of opportunity should we be looking for?
It turns out there are five basic types.
The first two are to ignore the problem (live with it) or walk away (exit the situation). These options might seem obvious but how often do we jump in and start fixing a problem without considering whether it really matters? How often do we waste time and effort on issues that would have been better ignored?
1. Sometimes taking no action on an issue will send an important message about our priorities (to customers, employees, suppliers, or shareholders). Sometimes ignoring a problem will be the best option because we have limited resources and other (higher) priorities to deal with. Sometimes doing nothing is appropriate so that other people will take responsibility. And sometimes the best we can do is choose which problem we want to live with.
2. Sometimes it makes sense to walk away from a situation and focus our energies elsewhere. This new situation will bring us new issues to deal with, yes, but these might teach us more, lead us in a direction we care more about, or reward us better.
Whenever we face a “problem” it is worth asking whether that issue is important enough to do something about.
If we decide we do want to take action then there are three more types of opportunity to look for:
3. One is to fix the problem. This means removing the issue and returning the situation to the way it was before. For business leaders this means getting the organisation out of the ditch and back on the same track as before. Increasing reliability, cutting costs, or raising prices are standard ways of doing this.
4. Another type of opportunity is to address the issue in a way that improves on the way things were before. This response is about getting the organisation out of the ditch and pointing it in a better, more productive direction. Corporate turnarounds, takeovers, and diversifications can be this kind of response.
5. Instead of finding better ways to fix the problem, a final type of response is gaining the ability to prevent the problem from arising in the first place. This is called resolving or transforming the situation: instead of fixing the heating or air conditioning system, or maintaining it better so it doesn’t break down as often, why not build buildings in a way that means they don’t need heating or air conditioning?
As an example, consider occupancy rates. These are a strategic issue in the hotel, airline, and taxi industries. Advertising and promotions could provide a short-term ‘fix’ to boost occupancy. Repositioning the business, by focusing on low cost or luxury customers, can ‘improve’ the business and increase occupancy by pointing the organisation in a new direction. And, Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft are all examples of how to ‘resolve’ or ‘transform’ the situation: by choosing not to own any taxis or hotels these companies no longer need to even consider occupancy rates. Other metrics become more important.
Like good comedy, the improve and transform types of innovation are harder to find but also more ‘transformational’ / ‘disruptive’ once you find them.
And even if you don’t find the equivalent of Airbnb or Uber with every issue that you face, simply looking for these five kinds of opportunity will bring the inspiration that is so important in a time of change.
Are you facing a problem today? Did you consider what your options might be under all five of these types of response before you decided which was your best opportunity to move forward?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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