The art of Strategic Opportunism.

Learn the rulesPicasso once said “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”. It’s a fantastic piece of advice that stands up to this day across the entire creative sphere, from marketing to jazz to improvisational comedy.

With improv comedy, for instance, the rules are simple yet fundamental. They ensure all of the actors have the individual freedom to take whatever opportunities they see, and to move the sketch in whichever direction they want, without losing all of their acting colleagues along the way. It’s essentially the same challenge as faced by the entrepreneurial leader in the “strategy vs opportunism” dilemma that I wrote about in the last article, where I promised this explanation of “strategic opportunism”.

A solo entrepreneur, like a solo jazz player, has complete freedom to hop about and follow whatever direction they choose at any given time. But, the leader of an organisation, like the leader of a band, needs to play within some form of structure, so their colleagues can understand what’s happening, and make their own decisions while still working in harmony with the overall direction of the business.

The rules for “strategic opportunism” in business are simple. They’re nothing more than a set of criteria against which opportunities can be quickly tested. If they pass the criteria, they’re fair game to pursue. If they don’t, they’re out. Of course, once you’ve set the rules, you can choose to break them, but at least everyone else knows what they are, and can fully explore the territory inside them.

Example criteria might be the three Ps: does this opportunity fit with our purpose; is it likely to be profitable; does it fit, or contribute to, our prowess? Simply asking those questions will push you to test your understanding of the purpose of your organisation; what your assumptions and time-horizon are around profitability; and where your critical capabilities are, and need to be developed.

So how clear are your team on your strategic criteria for opportunism? And how good are you at playing within them?

Bottom Line: Getting to your own set of rules needn’t be an onerous task of navel-gazing and contemplation. Simply look at the opportunities in front of you, and those you’ve chosen to take up or discard, and ask yourself why? On what basis did you decide? Then take it from there.