Hierarchy of Opportunity

The Journey to Discover a Better Future

Andrew Coyle
Aug 8, 2016 · 3 min read

Humans are problem solvers, and this is a major problem.

Countless systems fall victim to misguided progress from short-sided contributions. Fear, laziness, and immature ambition lead to reactionary solutions. These solutions fail to address the root problem, thereby causing more issues, and the cycle repeats.

This article describes the stages of realizing opportunity. In a world plagued with temporary solutions, only a few individuals and businesses arrive at the top of this hierarchy.

Understanding the role of emotion is key to arriving at opportunity. Emotions cloud judgment, lead to reactionary solutions, and rejection of root problems. Acknowledgement of these emotions will prevent you from falling victim to the tyranny of complacency.


Symptoms form the bottom of the hierarchy of opportunity. They are plentiful and misguiding.

Don’t jump to solutions when an issue presents itself. Instead, investigate the root cause by asking the five whys. Think backward until the root problem presents itself.

Emotions: overwhelmed, frustrated, irritated.

Reactionary Solution

Humans employ many subconscious techniques to avoid acknowledgment of problems. When issues materialize, our subconscious jumps to solutions to pacify our unease. This only masks the pain, which will come back in other forms.

Simply thinking of a solution isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, thinking about the solution that bubbles up from your subconscious is the first step to getting to the right answer. Reframe the solution into a problem statement, and investigate its root. Make sure you understand what you are addressing, and always search for clarity.

If you think you have an answer, think of its consequences. Extrapolate the solution’s effects into the future. What will happen if this solution is implemented? Then what?

Take time to let the solution sink into your mind. Collect and bucket other related ideas. Look for patterns. Break significant issues into smaller ones. This will expose the path to the root problem.

Emotions: prideful, skeptical, insecure

Root Problem

Discipline, intuition, and the navigation of emotions will propel you to the root problem. Once you arrive, the first question you should ask is, “has this problem been uncovered before?” Most often you aren’t the first person to discover it. If not, there are probably reasons why it’s still a problem. Try to uncover what was learned and implemented in the past. Investigate why the solution wasn’t successful. Ask yourself, “what’s different now that enables the problem to be solved?”

Root problems are often painful to accept. Extra care should be taken when presenting to others, especially if humans are involved.

Emotions: confident, surprised, overwhelmed


Opportunity is at the top of the hierarchy. It defines a possible future reality. It is the guiding light of a successful business. It arises from the acceptance and willingness to solve root problems. It is the light at the end of the tunnel, and the beginning of a journey.

Emotions: excited, optimistic, secure

The hierarchy of opportunity helps focus efforts on the most productive outcomes. If ignored, you run the risk of jumping from one reactionary solution to the next. Root problems are hard to find and even harder to accept in our emotionally charged reality, but they are the only way to discover a better future.

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Flexport Design

Designing the operating system for global trade @flexport

Flexport Design

Designing the operating system for global trade @flexport

Andrew Coyle

Written by

Building @mockvisual (YC S19) • Formerly @Flexport @Google @Intuit • Interested in platforms

Flexport Design

Designing the operating system for global trade @flexport