Drowning in opportunities?

In a strategic planning meeting recently our facilitator said something that stuck with me. “The difference between an opportunity and a distraction depends on what your goals are.”

There’s never a shortage of opportunities. For example, today we could:

  • * Sell our products and services to a new client
  • * Partner with another company
  • * Open a new market
  • * Hire a new person
  • * Launch a new marketing initiative
  • * Start a new company

We’re bombarded with opportunities every day. But if we’re not careful, they can become horrible distractions, detracting from our core business and hurting our results. For example:

  • * We sell a new client who isn’t quite our perfect type of customer, and wind up doing a poor job or losing money
  • * We start a partnership we aren’t really committed to, and the partnership never goes anywhere
  • * We open a new market, and don’t have the resources to do a good job
  • * We hire a new team member and don’t have the time to properly onboard them
  • * We launch a new marketing initiative, then give up before it really gets going
  • * We start a second company, and it never gets much of our attention. Both our original business and the new business suffer.

There will always be another idea, another opportunity. The hard part isn’t generating them, its knowing which ones to pursue, and which ones to throw on the pile of “maybe someday,” to be re-evaluated later.

To determine whether something is an opportunity or a distraction, look at four things:

  • 1. Our purpose – why does the company exist? Does this opportunity help us do that better?
  • 2. Our vision – what is it that we’re creating? What’s our envisioned future? Does this opportunity help us create it?
  • 3. Our goals – what 3-5 things are we working on this year? Does the opportunity move us toward one of them?
  • 4. Our priorities and bandwidth – given the other things that we are doing in pursuit of our vision, is this more or less important? Can we realistically do it right now?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, it’s truly an opportunity. Otherwise it’s a distraction.

Of course, it may meet some of the above criteria, but not others. For example, the opportunity might be aligned with our purpose and help create the vision, but not line up with a goal we’re currently pursuing. In that case we have two options. If it is more important than another goal we’ve already set, we can replace the goal with this new, more important one. Or we can save it for later, and look at as a a possibility in our next strategic planning session.

For better results, pursue only true opportunities, and let your competitors deal in the distractions.