Business opportunities are often within a company, not outside
What impedes businesses isn't so much the outside world but internal biases and blind spots.
Entrepreneurs normally look outside their business for opportunities-to new products, new customer needs and new markets. But the biggest opportunities for your company don't lie "out there." Rather, they're inside, between your ears.
Once in a while, I sit down with a business owner and conduct an "opportunity audit." This involves asking lots of questions about the company, how it has evolved, what its strengths are and what worries keep the owner up at night. I'm looking for turning points, the strategy behind the biggest wins, new ideas and solutions for their most nagging problems.
I enjoy identifying outside opportunities-new markets for established products, new distribution channels, unexplored partnerships. But as these opportunity audits continually prove, the best opportunities come from overcoming your own biases and blindness-reacquainting yourself with the full power of your business.
Case in point: a few weeks ago, I met with an entrepreneur (we'll call him Taylor) who is trying to disrupt a sector of the professional services business. He's wondering why his phone isn't ringing. I discovered a number of potential explanations, most of which had nothing to do with the business, the market or the economy:
I had similar experiences two weeks later, when I worked with a leadership team to shake out new opportunities. Early in the day, when I used a bit of industry jargon, my choice of language was criticized. "We don't use that phrase here," they said. I was shocked; this was common industry terminology, and I believe companies should use their customers' language. But, no, this company prides itself on doing things differently. I tried to explain that there's a difference between being different and being from Mars. Later on, we uncovered a true and valuable differentiator in this company's service. When I asked why the firm wasn't promoting this service more, I got pushback again. Some managers don't think the firm does this well enough, so it doesn't get mentioned at all.
I figure business is tough enough without imposing arbitrary rules that restrict our creativity or set up barriers between us and our customers.
The good news is these blind spots and brain farts can be identified and overcome-if you're serious about improving your business. Change is hard, so you have to commit yourself to honest introspection and real change.
It helps to have an outsider-a consultant or a fellow executive-go through the process with you, helping to identify and uproot bad habits. But you can probably achieve a few breakthroughs yourself by answering tough questions such as these:
Today's most successful entrepreneurs see unlimited opportunities. They advance by identifying their best growth prospects and weeding out old initiatives, constantly watching for the fuzzy thinking that takes their eyes off the ball. "Say no to a thousand things," said Steve Jobs. But first say no to your biases and blind spots.
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