Opportunity or distraction?

AS A LEADER, CAN YOU STRATEGICALLY, CONSISTENTLY, AND LOGICALLY EVALUATE NEW IDEAS OR CONCEPTS – regardless of where they come from? Can you determine whether or not it is a valid, worthwhile concept to pursue – or simply a time- and resource-wasting distraction?

One of the greatest strategic challenges facing leaders like you today is choosing the few best opportunities from the choices you have. This selection process is also one of the greatest threats – largely because pursuing the wrong opportunities distracts attention, saps energy, and wastes resources.

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Very few leaders have an intuitive ability to make only wise choices. If that is true, where does it leave the rest of us?

The challenge comes in developing innate skills at sorting opportunities from distractions. Opportunities advance a company – helping it move forward and eventually become more productive and more profitable. Distractions usually begin as very appealing and profitable ideas. But somewhere along the line, they turn ugly.

How do you tell the difference? How do you figure out which to pursue – and which to abandon from the start?

Here are three clear – and immediate – steps that you can use immediately -- and get better at over time.

    • Develop a few strategic questions to help you quickly sort out and evaluate opportunities on their merits – and to permit you to discard those that are likely to become distractions.

Add to these questions a simple rating system (say 0 – 5) to bring more objectivity to your thinking. In this case, zero or one is little or no value. Two or three is possible. Four or five is very promising.

    • Fit us and our skills, capabilities, and our company?
    • Fill a need or a hole in our offerings? Is this a logical extension of what we offer that people might buy in addition to what we are already selling or doing for them?
    • Provide new value to our customers/clients/patients?
    • Would they recognize this value – and think it’s important?
    • Would it produce value for us – as revenue, profits, or in stature, reputation, or relevance?
    • Enable us to do something we’ve wanted to do – or do something better?
    • Help us strategically move forward and advance the company in some way or open other doors?
    • Allow us to eventually leverage it into other areas or opportunities?

Don't expect perfection, especially of early ideas. The point is, if the idea makes it this far, there’s one more step. The concept or opportunity should be able to stand up to further scrutiny. Here are a few more questions you could ask (before others do):

    • Is this a straight-line opportunity – meaning, can we immediately take advantage of it with the knowledge, skills, and resources we have now, or must we learn or develop something that we do not have at present?
    • Do we have the resources, funding, skills, connections, logistics, and so on – in order to adequately act on this, or does it require other commitments (i.e., borrow money; hire people, etc.) that might be distracting all by itself?
    • Would this make us more competitive – or perhaps give us a competitive advantage – or even keep competitors from entering this market?
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RECOMMENDATION    Develop your questions and use them – along with a simple rating system. And then teach your team to do the same thing. Improve your questions and judgment over time. Write them down and teach them to empower others. If you do, you will become a more strategic leader – surrounded by a strategic team – which together can consistently find opportunities amidst the distractions.

Carl Francis

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