These rare events can change your life. Are you ready to take advantage of them?
Like a meteor that flashes and fades in the summer sky, transformational opportunities appear only a few times in our lives. They emerge without warning and tend to vanish just as quickly and mysteriously.
Eric Anderson, who kick-started the space tourism industry in 2001 by sending the first private citizen to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, calls these unique events “windows of opportunity.” He defines them as “a rare set of circumstances and a brief moment in which an otherwise impossible outcome is potentially achievable.”
Most of the time, we habitually fail to recognize transformational opportunities. Even if we do, we may become immobilized by uncertainty and indecision and fail to take action on them quickly enough.
We think we have plenty of time to ponder what to do. But we don’t.
The window closes as quickly and unpredictably as it emerged. It’s gone forever.
Because windows of opportunity are usually open only for a tiny sliver of time, Anderson emphasizes that you must be ready for them when they appear. You must not only be able to recognize them, but also know what they mean to you and how you plan to act on them.
My windows of opportunity
This concept resonates with me because it puts into words what I’ve experienced throughout my life. I’ve discovered that pursuing passion projects has enabled me to see the trends, connections, implications and possibilities, where windows of opportunity tend to hide.
Here are two examples of how this mindset has enabled me to capitalize on transformational opportunities in my life:
Becoming a web pioneer
Early in my career, at the dawn of the World Wide Web, I worked for a marketing and PR agency. A construction trade association was one of my clients. During discussions with its staff, I learned that Compuserve and AOL had recently pitched them about setting up online communities for its members.
At the time, both of these tech companies not only provided consumers with a bevy of online services but also created private communities for associations and other groups where their members could communicate and collaborate.
But my client didn’t understand what this opportunity could mean to the organization. Online services had the potential to revolutionize the services associations provided and how they delivered them to their members.
So I did some research on my own time and at my own expense. I prepared a presentation about the power and potential of online services for associations and showed it to my contacts at the association. Several weeks later, I was invited to present my findings to the president of the association.
Based on that presentation, he hired me to plan and launch the association’s first website and to research and lead all of its technology-related ventures. In that role, I helped to catapult the association into a thought leadership position in online services. It was an amazing 14-year ride!
This remarkable opportunity also led me to launch a bevy of side projects based on what I learned. I created InnovationTools.com, which became the world’s largest website on innovation, creativity and brainstorming for 10 years, and the Mind Mapping Software Blog, the world’s leading source of news, reviews, insights and training for visual thinking tools. I got to experiment with multiple types of revenue streams and types of content. And much more!
A front-row seat to the content marketing revolution
Fast forward to 2014. As a journalist, writer and PR professional, I became fascinated by the Brave New World of content marketing. At the time, there was only one true source of knowledge and wisdom about this new marketing practice — the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). I loved their business model and services so much that I offered my services to its founder, Joe Pulizzi.
That led to a growing number of part-time projects. Within a year, I was hired full-time to run its fledgling online education service. During my stint there, I learned at the feet of the masters of content marketing. It was amazing to talk to so many incredibly smart people!
When CMI was acquired in 2016, my position was eliminated. But I was able to pivot into a new position as the director of content marketing for a local marketing agency. There, I’ve been able to put to use everything I’ve learned, benefiting the agency and my clients.
What’s the common thread?
In both cases, my passion for these topics helped me recognize the opportunities they contained. But it also gave me a keen sense of what they could mean to me and filled me with confidence to go after them.
What’s your passion?
The Roman philosopher Seneca observed that “luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.” In today’s world of remote work, the gig economy and massive, discontinuous change, that bit of simple wisdom rings truer than ever before.
Opportunity is all around us.
Passion is the spark that illuminates it.
It’s what drives you to invest more time and energy than others may think is wise to pursue a Quixotic passion. You don’t know if it will lead to anything, but you LOVE to explore it and learn everything there is to know about it. When you’re not learning about it, you’re thinking about it.
Passion is what keeps you up late at night, researching, writing, exploring your thoughts. And it’s what keeps you pressing forward through the inevitable setbacks and roadblocks.
Passion is what compels you to dig deeper, to see patterns, connections and implications that others aren’t even aware of.
Ultimately, it gives you superpowers to take advantage of amazing opportunities that will make a difference for you and others.
Windows of opportunity can propel your life farther and higher than you ever dreamed possible. They enable you to shine brightly, illuminating the way and creating opportunities for others along the way.
Tips to recognize your windows of opportunity
What are your windows of opportunity? Here are some powerful ways you can discern them and take action on them:
Cultivate an “insight outlook.”
Cultivate the habit of thinking deeply about the information, events and trends you encounter. Ask yourself questions like “What does this mean?” “What are the implications of what I’ve just learned?”
Don’t just consume information. Explore it. Interpret it. Understand what’s behind it and the opportunities that may lie within it.
Pay attention to “weak signals.”
These are new developments, technologies and trends that may be in their infancy now. But if they gain traction, they could profoundly affect your world. You need to be able to see them and understand them first.
Immerse yourself deeply in the information flows of your industry.
Be well-read in your field of expertise, of course. But also look for communities of practice, where your peers are discussing their challenges and what’s going on in your field. Offer to serve on the boards of influential groups in your industry. Follow and engage with key influencers. Look for opportunities to engage them in conversations. Ask lots of questions.
Adopt Richard Feynman’s technique.
This Nobel Prize-winning physicist kept file folders for each of the key problems he was passionate about solving. Whenever he encountered a new piece of data or information about one of his pet topics, he would place it in the appropriate folder. He would then review the contents of each folder periodically, with an eye toward how each element was connected. Inevitably, this practice would lead to new insights and ideas.
Today, you can utilize note-taking tools like Evernote, Notion and Roam to do the same thing — capturing a wealth of articles, ideas and resources, placing them in folders for future reference and then using them as springboards to help identify your windows of opportunity.
Use visual tools to help you connect the dots.
Visual tools like mind mapping software, diagramming tools and visual collaboration tools enable you to gather a wealth of information, knowledge and ideas on a free-form visual canvas and then play “what if?” with their arrangement. This can help you see patterns in the bits and pieces you’ve gathered and better understand their implications.
Increasingly, there are very few “new to the world” ideas. Most innovation comes in the form of unique combinations of existing products, services and technologies. Visual tools can help you entertain a radically larger range of possibilities — so you can uncover your unique, game-changing windows of opportunity.
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