Opportunity recognition

November 01, 2018

I was talking to my friend Tom over the weekend about opportunity recognition, the skill of "seeing what's next". Though I live in Silicon Valley, I've never had the confidence to "bet the farm" on a particular idea, doing something crazy like dropping out of Harvard and moving halfway across the country, or running up $25K in credit card debt, to pursue a business idea.

Nonetheless, opportunity recognition is an important skill in business; if you're going to commit resources—time, money, attention—you'd better be able to tell whether something will work.

That's when I remembered this picture from my friend Kurt:

Clara at the sound board

Kurt's daughter Clara is 2 or 3 years old, but she's already "running sound" at church, just like her dad. He sent this as kind of a joke; obviously a 2-year old can't operate a sound board. But she's learning young, and if this is something she enjoys, she'll have logged a lot of time by young adulthood. I have no idea whether she'll be interested in sound design later in life, but were she to be, she'll be like the boy who did free throws with his dad starting at age 5; practice matters a lot.

Thinking of high achievers I've known, they benefit in numerous ways from their families:

  • They learn skills: painting, writing, negotiation
  • They're taught habits: grit, hard work, persistence
  • They receive access through their family's social and professional connections
  • They receive cash which lets them focus on what matters

I still think people are mostly responsible for their own success, but being born in the right family certainly helps. And I hope I can do these things for my children someday.

Looking at it this way, I'm not surprised opportunity recognition wasn't someting I had in my 20s; we had no businesspeople in my family, so I'm not sure where I'd learn it? I also think truly great businesspeople don't so much "take risks" as "identify situations with tons of upside and very little downside".

Nonetheless, I'm getting better at this, though still on the lookout for ways to improve more quickly; it helps to write it down.