Opportunity is defined as “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.” The word first came into use during the 14th century, and was derived from the Latin phrase “ob portum veniens,” or “coming toward a port.” The implied imagery is of a ship taking advantage of favorable winds to approach and enter the harbor.
Today, we tend to think of opportunities as chances to favorable advance some aspect of our lives or business. Astute leaders will take advantage of opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. This thought came to mind Friday night as I opened up a fortune cookie to find this phrase printed on the slip of paper inside: “When opportunity knocks, it’s up to you to answer it.”
I think it’s safe to say, we’re all looking for opportunities to expand the reach of our business. We seek out opportunities for new customers and expanded relationships with existing ones. We welcome opportunities to partner with other people and organizations who share the same goals and values that we do. However, when opportunity knocks, we don’t always answer.
Too often we miss out on opportunities because we aren’t able or willing to answer the door when that knock comes. These missed opportunities represent chances to impact lives, discover new territories, and secure new business. And I believe there are three key reasons why we let these opportunities pass us by.
Many times, we miss out because we aren’t open to a particular opportunity. We spend our time looking for just the right circumstances – looking so intently that other good opportunities are ignored. We want the stars to align perfectly before we move forward. We want the market to be the most profitable, the product to be one we like, and the work involved to be minimal. We forget that opportunity usually involves hard work. We have to act when conditions are favorable, not necessarily perfect. If we’re not open to those opportunities when they come around, we’ll miss the chance to answer.
We can also let opportunity pass by because we aren’t prepared to answer the call when it comes. Even if conditions are perfect, we may lose out because we aren’t in a position to capitalize on the opportunity. If the team isn’t on top of day-to-day business or lacks basic skills needed to be successful, then we can be forced to great opportunities go. It’s important to take care of the basics and coach the team so that when the wind blows in our favor, we can quickly shift to take advantage of it.
I also believe opportunities slip away because we are afraid of failure. I’m all for minimizing risk, but there comes a time when you simply have to jump in. Some leaders try to cover every contingency before acting, and the longer they wait, the more circumstances have a tendency to change. A mentor once told me to think in terms of “Ready, Fire, Aim.” That is, be ready to act when the opportunity comes, but be comfortable with making adjustments as you move forward.
In 1911, businesses began using the term “opportunity cost” as a way to quantify the value of missed opportunities. By not acting when conditions are favorable, we risk missing out. And we never know when, or even if, opportunity will ever knock again.