The art of missing Opportunities

“Winning Opportunities” is about the art of identifying and seizing opportunities. I now feel I should write about the art of Not-missing opportunities.

A good example is illustrated by the recent confession of Paul Otellini, Intel’s former CEO who admitted passing up one of the biggest opportunities in Intel's history -- supplying chips for the first iPhone. Intel is not the first and certainly not the last of the big corporations who missed a huge opportunity: for instance Xerox did not believe in the potential of the personal computer invented in its own labs. Similarly Nokia did not believe smartphones would become big enough business.

This points to some critical issues handicapping large corporations as well as smaller ones:

  1. It is easier to say No than to say Yes.
  2. A decision maker who says Yes to the wrong project will be severely criticized. He might even get fired for a poor allocation of resources… It is thus always safe to say No
  3. Very few decision-makers are criticized for saying No. I am not aware of too many managers being fired for concentrating on their routine activities and passing up nice opportunities. For some stupid reason missing an opportunity is not viewed as being as bad as allocating resources to the wrong project. It probably has to do with the fact that wasting money is (wrongly) perceived as being worse than not making money.
  4. Many decision-makers require minimum thresholds to go ahead: a minimum market size, a minimum profit margin, etc. Such constraints prevent them from putting a foot in the door of huge opportunities such as the iPhone, the personal computer, the smartphones, etc.

Fortunately – even if I should say “unfortunately” because saying No slows innovation and prevents seizing opportunities – large corporations have so much muscle that despite missing an opportunity they can often still catch up and become the ultimate winners. To understand how Intel might nevertheless win the iPhone battle look at what the Atlantic has to say. Those who do not have such muscle will not be as fortunate. They have no choice but to exercise good judgment.

The bottom line is that there is no perfect recipe for success. It is all about judgment. Even the smartest, like Paul Otellini, can wrongly assess opportunities. If nobody is immune to poor judgment the minimum is to at least ask the right questions. Those questions are stated in Chapter 3 of “Winning Opportunities, proven tools for converting your projects into success (without a business plan)”. If fact the answers to each of the IpOp Model questions require judgment…