Increase Opportunities to Innovate [Yes! And. Blog 176]

 “Miracles, you do not have to look for them. They are there, 24/7, beaming like radio waves around you.

Put up the antenna, turn up the volume – snap… crackle… this just in… every person you talk to is a chance to change the world…”

Hugh Elliott, American blogger 

Sensing Opportunity

Put Up The Aerial

How can you sense more opportunities; more novel opportunities?

Recently, I went to the Design Museum in London with my son. For him, it was a way to fulfil his Design and Technology homework requirements. For me, it was a chance to tweak my creative antennae.

 The “Design of the Year” exhibition is running and from a sizeable list I made a tough choice for my top three: a. the “Lego Toy” bottle top; b. a roll up bicycle mudguard and c. a medical syringe that turns red when it has been used.

Along with an excellent exhibition on the work of designer Daniel Weil, this is a great opportunity to stimulate your people to sense opportunities.


Many of you do not live in London or nearby, so here are six ways to enhance how you sense opportunities:

Free time to sense opportunities

People become so focussed on the day job, they fill their waking minutes with it. When this happens, weak signals of opportunity become lost in a storm of “noise” and your competitors are likely to hear louder signals too. You have to free up time to give your mind quiet and space. It is worthwhile to record potential opportunities so that a list is always at hand. Use the notes app on your phone.

Create a regular flow of opportunities

Often, an opportunity arises because someone spots a problem by chance. This spontaneous recognition is common but unreliable; a little like basing your opportunity sensing on buying lottery scratch cards.

Instead, you should build a process that encourages your people to sense opportunities and feed a regular FLOW and CHOICE of opportunities; because, like scratch cards, the more choices you have, the more likely you are to find the best opportunity (or win the jackpot).

Increase the size of your search party

Mountain rescue teams do not rely on one man and a dog. They have large co-ordinated teams. In contrast, some companies rely on senior managers (especially in smaller companies), R & D personnel or other creative types to identify opportunities.  This limits the scope for sensing opportunities. Organisations need the majority of people to be sensing opportunities, not just a few people.

As one R & D manager said after an innovation workshop, “It was great to have other people identifying opportunities and coming up with ideas, not just relying on R & D.”

Have an external focus

Across Europe, the design, the shops and the cafes in most service stations on major roads are standardised. Which one you choose tends to rely solely on how much fuel you have in your tank.

The drive to reduce costs or maintain the brand image have led to a focus on standardisation, leaner more efficient processes and systems and continuous improvement of the existing product. These are all vitally important but can lead to organisations having an internal focus while competitors develop new solutions to consumer problems. When did you last use a roll of film, even though it was superb quality and reasonably priced?

Generate different stimuli

I asked seven different companies how they sense opportunities. Without fail, the primary response was, “We talk to customers.” That is good, however, …

You are likely to work in an industry where you and your competitors speak to the same or similar customers and suppliers, read the same industry magazines, use the same social media sites, etc. This can lead people to identify similar opportunities and respond in the same way. You need to introduce an element of randomness to identify novel opportunities, e.g. go to a design museum.

Scan for unexpected competitors

In our scout troop, children play “Rattlesnake”.  The children run round as the leaders throw foam balls at their legs and if hit, the child is “out”.

One night, a child stopped and he dodged the first ball I threw. Next, I pretended to throw the ball at him and he kept leaping in the air until the other leader walked up behind him and gently bowled him out.  Focussed on me, the child forgot the threat from the other leader. This is a great analogy for companies.  It is easy in a market to focus on the “established” competition, to identify the same opportunities. Look for the unexpected competitor seeking to shake up the industry. Apple iTunes and the music distribution industry is an example.

Small Action

If you have the opportunity, visit the Design Museum (or similar near you) with your colleagues and challenge everyone to sense at least one opportunity relevant to your work.§

In Summary

To create more chance of sensing new and different opportunities:

  • Free up time to sense weak signals of opportunities
  • Have a system to help you and your colleagues sense opportunities
  • Spread your opportunity gathering across the organisation
  • Encourage people to balance the internal focus with an external focus
  • Disrupt your routine enough to receive fresh stimulus on a regular basis
  • Focus on more than the usual competitors.

Have a stimulating week. If you want to sense more opportunities, you might like to read our book, “Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate.”

John Brooker I Yes! And. Think Innovatively.

To receive regular articles, register at our website: and receive Section 1 of John’s book, “Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate”, with our compliments. We guarantee not to share your details. Or you might buy John’s book at Amazon now: “Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate.”

Read: and Facebook

Talk: +44 20 8869 9990

Write: [email protected]