Recognizing Opportunity

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Recognizing opportunity is often the key to being successful. The big question is: How do you do it? That is—How do you see an idea that will sell? Or better yet, how do you create the idea that will take your business to new heights? Everyone is entitled to at least one epiphany during her or his career, when an idea neatly presents itself to you at an unexpected moment. But how do you do it when your ration of epiphanies has been used or your epiphany ship just won’t come to port, it’s stuck out in a storm?

New ideas really are nothing more than synthesized thoughts that come from a variety of places or stimuli. Look at the following possible sources of new ideas, new opportunities.

Keep an Idea File or Notebook. Place three by five inch cards around your home, car, office, shirt pocket so when an idea strikes you can write it down. Get out of the shower, pull over the car, stop and write the idea down. You won’t remember it. Your brain thinks at 500 words per minute and you are exposed to over 10,000 advertising impressions a day (no that is not an exaggeration), so stop and write the idea down. Collect the ideas into a loose-leaf notebook or file system where you can look and study what you have written. Review your notebook from time to time. The review may cause you to have another epiphany.

Talk To People—Network. Probably the key selling point for going to a professional conference is to be able to network and talk to people about ideas. People come to conferences often looking for solutions. The combination of their searching and your searching may create opportunities for idea synthesis. Go to workshops, seminars, take classes, or attend chamber meetings—ideas will occur to you that won’t in other settings. Write them down and put them in your notebook. Go where people are that do the work that you do and talk.

Remember that an unmet need is an opportunity. Whenever you have said to yourself, I wish that we had this… or that…it sure would make our work easier— there is an idea that provides an opportunity. A good source for finding unmet needs is to use both supplier and customer focus groups and ask them questions.

Ask lots of questions. Ask questions about processes, desired end results, and likes and dislikes, that are applied to a variety of situations. For example, with a focus group you could ask them what they like best about your product or service and what they like least. The second question tells you that you have an unmet need or opportunity. Further probing will give you information about how the unmet need can be filled.

A classic example of how this process works occurred a few years ago was when an employee of 3M Company discovered a material by accident that when it was applied to paper, it would allow it to stick to other papers. One time while the employee was participating in a church choir it occurred to him that if he made small squares with this substance attached, he could mark different pages where different songs were located in the songbook. He wouldn’t need to use paper clips and he could even write small notes on the square. Two ideas collided and a new product was born—Post-It Notes.

To learn more about how to start up a business, obtain funding, or operate your business, enroll in COCC’s Entrepreneurship Program, Small Business Management Program, or take seminars from the Center for Business and Industry (Business Development Center). (541) 383-7290 .

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