The standard business advice to seize every opportunity contains a fatal flaw: It assumes that opportunity will just present itself at some point, and you can passively wait for it to arise. But some of the best and boldest business minds know real opportunities are made, not merely grabbed at.
When Twitter cofounder Biz Stone first stumbled across the early blogging platform Blogger, he started reading the blog of its founder, Evan Williams. And when Blogger was later sold, Stone decided to create an opportunity for himself: He reached out to Williams and suggested that the two of them work together.
“People who stumble into great opportunities also cast wide social networks and put themselves out there more than others.”
What followed is a story for the business history books: Williams, a college drop-out who grew up on welfare, moved to California to work at Google, rub elbows with the technerati, and eventually help launch Twitter. “Everyone else at Twitter was a coder or a computer science graduate. I wasn’t, so I had to create my own opportunities to contribute,” Stone writes in the Harvard Business Review. He didn’t wait for some external force or other person to suggest a way for him to stand out-he carved out his own job description and then rocked that position.
It’s a subtle but significant shift: To stop passively waiting for an opportunity to come your way and instead start proactively thinking of ways to create it.
Some businesspeople may dismiss a colleague’s big opportunity as merely a “lucky break,” but researchers have shown that people who tend to stumble into great opportunities are also people who cast wide social networks and put themselves and their ideas out there more than others. In other words, their lucky opportunity is really the result of a lot of work.
“Lucky people court chance by breaking routine, saying yes more often and meeting people beyond their circle,” Tania Luna, a researcher at Hunter College in New York City and author of the new book Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, told Health magazine.
That doesn’t mean you have to approach the next stranger you see on the bus with a five-year business proposition. But creating your own opportunities can start with being more open to chance encounters and more outgoing at networking events. If there’s a skill set you want to cultivate, go ahead and sign up for classes or ask a team member for help. (Remember that email Twitter cofounder Biz Stone sent to Evan Williams? Sure, it might have gone unanswered-but Stone definitely wouldn’t have gotten a response if he’d never put the invitation out there to begin with.)
“Reach out to an old friend you haven’t seen since high school,” Luna suggested. “Or invite a colleague to join you at a new lunch spot. The idea is to move outside your comfort zone.” And while other people might be twiddling their thumbs waiting for an opportunity to arrive, you’ll be moving yourself into a position to create your own opportunity right now.