Culture, Entrepreneurs

Death by opportunity


Have you ever stood in front of the paint chip section at Home Depot for what seems like hours? Frantically picking up swatch after swatch, nervously trying to return them to the right slot, missing, getting frustrated, feeling the high ceilings closing in, the overhead florescent lighting feeling hot and oppressive. Am I sweating? Have I stopped breathing? ARGH! Why are there so many colors to choose from??!!

Have you ever felt like this? Totally overwhelmed by the choices and opportunity in front of you? For me, when this feeling manifests itself it typically kills my home improvement projects. I know this Death by Opportunity moment isn’t relegated to my DIY hobbies. When it comes into play in business it can have devastating effects. I’ve seen it happen time and again. In every stage of a company. We’ve seen it with tech companies who make small modifications to their platform to accommodate Customer ABC, and another little tweak over here for Customer XYZ … and before you know it, they are managing 5 instances of their platform leaving the developers overwhelmed and the marketplace is totally confused about their offering, leaving sales lackluster.

Isn’t opportunity a good thing? Lots of opportunity is an indication of interest, of traction in the marketplace, of acceptance by customers and investors. Which is a good thing, right?

Sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much. Like the paint selections. Too much opportunity can overwhelm the system, distract and ultimately be the death of you.

Game of Jenga

How do you know? What’s the tipping point of opportunity? How can you avoid Death by Opportunity?

Opportunity is a tricky character that has a habit of masquerading as happy news, as great ideas, as new ventures, as money making endeavors. It looks so inviting and comfortable, a lovely shine to it, all new and exciting. How do you know if this opportunity is a distraction or a game-changer? My suggestion is to look at opportunity through the lens of scarcity. An obvious place to find scarcity at work in a business is the startup world. For startups, scarcity is everywhere.

“Startups find ways of turning their constraints into strengths. For them, scarcity is the mother of invention.”

I love this quote from an article in Forbes written by smart people at The Kellogg School of Management. This quote sums up my feelings on how companies at any stage of growth can organize themselves to take advantage of scarcity. It happens naturally, in most cases, for startups. But what about the well-funded early stage company with customers and market share who is constantly bombarded with product extension opportunities? What about the 30 year old company with established market presence and cash in the bank who is weighing partnership opportunities and market expansions left and right? They need to look at consciously injecting scarcity into their process. A few scarcity moments to consider are time, money, geography, products, human resources and office size.

Imagine if your organization consciously inserted one or more of these scarcity moments into your process. What does that look like? Are you forced to come to a conclusion within 10 days? Do you limit the amount of money spent on product research, forcing you to go with your gut a little more? Do you put your 2 best people on the project and assign everyone else to another area? What if 1/2 of your team worked remote?

Doug from UP!Like any system or company, choosing what’s right for you is the key. But consider how your company views opportunity and how that view effects everyone involved. Does it feel like the dogs in the movie UP!? “Squirrel!” Totally losing focus and chasing whatever comes along? Imagine your world with well-placed scarcity that creates abundance. For instance, putting a 30 minute time limit on all meetings. No meeting can be longer than 30 minutes. You may experience an abundance of time. Sweet! You may experience an abundance of new ideas because everyone has to get more creative with a shorter timeframe. At the end of the day, try adding some scarcity to realize more abundance. And hire a designer for that paint color choice! Outsource to the experts. But that’s a topic for another time….

Dayna Neumann

boundless. curious. renegade. founder @ execuity

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