Five opportunities for building inspiration in a time of change

We know that problems contain opportunities and that those opportunities can create the inspiration that inner leadership is all about. We also know that simply looking for the opportunities in a situation will improve morale and put us back in control, and we’ve seen some examples.

The next question is, what kinds of opportunity should we be looking for? It turns out there are five basic types.

The first two are to ignore the problem and live with it, or walk away and exit the situation. These options are worth remembering because too often we waste time and effort on issues that are not important to us:

1. Sometimes taking no action on an issue will send an important message about priorities (to customers, employees, suppliers, or shareholders). Sometimes doing nothing is appropriate so that other people take responsibility. Sometimes ignoring a problem is the best thing to do because we have higher priorities to deal with or because the best we can achieve is to choose which problem we want to live with.

2. Sometimes it makes sense to walk away from a situation and focus our energies elsewhere. This new situation will bring us new issues to deal with, but these might teach us more, lead us in a direction we care more about, or reward us better.

Alternatively, if we decide that we do want to take action to address an issue, there are three more types of opportunity to look for:

3. One is to fix the problem. This means removing the issue and returning the situation to the way it was before the issue arose. For business leaders this means getting the organisation out of the ditch and back on the same track as before: fixing the problem, cutting costs, and raising prices are the standard responses.

4. Another type of opportunity is to address the issue in a way that improves on the original situation. This response is about getting the organisation out of the ditch and pointing it in a better, more productive direction. Corporate turnarounds, takeovers, and diversifications can be this kind of response.

5. Instead of finding better ways to fix the problem, a final type of response is to prevent the problem from arising in the first place. This is called resolving or transforming the situation: instead of improving the maintenance programme for heating or air-conditioning systems, why not design buildings that are so well insulated they don’t need to be heated or cooled?

In music, Sony’s invention of the Walkman and CD-Walkman were smaller, more portable versions of existing cassette- and CD-players that ‘fixed’ or ‘maintained’ sales growth rates. The MP3 player was an ‘improve’ type of response: it did away with the need for CDs and tapes. And Spotify is a ‘transform’ innovation: it does away with the need for a specialised player, as well as CDs or tapes.

Occupancy rates can be a strategic issue in the hotel, airline, and taxi industries. Advertising and promotions can provide a short-term ‘fix’. An ‘improve’ response would increase occupancy by pointing the organisation in a new direction, focusing on low cost or luxury customers. And Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft are a ‘resolve’ or ‘transform’ type of response because they do away with the need to even consider occupancy rates, since the company does not own any taxis or hotels.

Like good comedy, the improve and transform types of innovation are harder to find but also more transformational or disruptive once you find them.

If you are facing a crisis or problem situation your five possible types of response are:

  1. Ignore the Problem or Live With the Situation
    When addressing the situation is not a priority for you, or not-addressing it is a priority.
  2. Leave the Situation
    Exit that market. Fire that customer/employer. Go somewhere else to address a set of issues that will teach you more, reward you better, or that you care more about.
  3. Fix, Restore, or Maintain the Situation
    Remove the problem and get things back to how they were before.
  4. Improve the Situation
    Remove the problem and improve the situation over how it was before.
  5. Resolve or Transform the Situation
    Prevent the problem situation from arising again.

Knowing these five options does not guarantee that you will find the equivalent of Airbnb or Uber with every issue that you face. But by knowing what to look for you put yourself back in control, widen your options, help yourself think further outside the box, and increase the chances that you will find the inspiration that is so important in a time of change.