Entrepreneurial Skill: Sensing Opportunities

Even a person remotely associated with entrepreneurship will tell you that ‘sensing opportunities’ is a skill worth picking up for every entrepreneur. While entrepreneurs gain this skill early on, they rarely sharpen it and keep it alive through the entrepreneurial journey. This is why we see only a few entrepreneurs become extraordinarily successful, only a few become serial entrepreneurs and so on. Most others started the same way, but let their entrepreneurial abilities drop. Among the many things that this arsenal is made of, one important one is ‘sensing opportunities’.

How does one develop this skill?

For sensing opportunities one must learn to see changes, as changes are the source of opportunities. Underlying changes come in many forms – demographic, societal, cultural, political, technological, etc. If one learns the art of watching ‘changes’, then one can quickly identify opportunities that can open up.

What practices can help you see changes?

Reading the newspaper can help! When we read the newspaper we need to look for those articles that are not news today, but are factual changes being reported. While they are reducing day by day in the periodicals (as they are boring), they are the ones that signal up and coming changes.

Reading well written magazines, especially columns and editorials are good places to start noticing changes.

Thought Leaders in your domain or industry constantly keep sharing reports and data about changes taking shape.

Being out in the field and close to your customers / markets can give you indicators of what is happening. Customers normally keep telling you what is changing in their lives. When we listen, we hear them early.

How to know if any of these changes will become opportunities?

If you can keep a small journal and note down all the changes you come across, over a short period of time, you will start noticing opportunities. When a typical change is being reported over and over again, please know that the trend is slowly going to become talked about. You can have a head start by sensing it early. You can then brainstorm or seek help to figure the opportunities that could come up due to the change. You may then quickly narrow them down to what you and your company can help resolve. This leads to some possibility for innovation in your entrepreneurial firm.

But to keep this skill sharp we need to constantly practice it. Hence start the habit today. A little time everyday is a worthy investment on this endeavour and this will lead you to many profitable opportunities along the way.

Think about it!

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2 thoughts on “Entrepreneurial Skill: Sensing Opportunities

  1. Very interesting, Raj. This reminds me of the concept of ‘promisingness’ that cognitive scientists Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia write about in their book Surpassing Ourselves: An Inquiry into the Nature and Implications of Expertise. Indeed, these authors argue that ‘knowledge of promisingness’ “is the key distinguishing factor between creative and noncreative expertise.” This, they say, is one thing that inexperienced novices find difficult to judge — whether an idea is reasonable, original, practical and therefore worth pursuing.

    I think this is a fascinating aspect of any kind of creative endeavor, including entrepreneurship — the extent to which a person has the ability to judge whether something is worth pursuing or is a waste of one’s time, based on decisions around ‘promisingness.’ For that I doubt there is any better education than learning from one’s own successes and failures. As much as some people wish there was a neat cookie-cutter, ten point ‘proxy’ plan to help them find opportunities, I suspect it will always really come down to what they have learned as a consequence of taking action and progressive problem-solving, deliberating on why something succeeded or did not produce the desired outcome — then banking that knowledge in the great storehouse we call memory, to be brought to bear when the question of “does this represent a new opportunity for me?” arises in the future.

    One line I especially like in the Surpassing Ourselves book (highly recommended, btw) is this: What makes the process of creative expertise creative, “is the progressive tackling of problems that lie far enough beyond what already-learned routines can handle that one is forced to make decisions on the basis of promisingness.” I guess that’s why true entrepreneurs are intrepid and fearless…they have to be, to move outside of what they already know which is where an understanding of where opportunities lie can be found.

    1. Amazing thoughts on taking the skill further. Thanks also for leading me to a new book and new authors. Will definitely read it and search for learning that can be applied to entrepreneurs.

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