When I was in the Marines, my favorite form of entertainment was trying to pick up women in bars. Despite being decent looking and good with people, I was spectacularly unsuccessful. One of my theories about why I was so terrible was that I was incompetent at identifying women who were interested in meeting a guy in a bar.

I focused on my interactions with the women I talked to: being confident in my approach, making conversation, etc. My theory was that I should focus more on watching the people in the bar and getting better at discerning the signals that a woman was looking for romance.

My behavioral research came to an end when I met my wife in a bar and approached her after she smiled at me.

Your business needs energy to grow and that manifests itself in the form of a growth opportunity.

Growth opportunities fall into two camps:

  • Within the business
  • Outside the business

Within the business, opportunities are things like cutting extraneous costs, improving systems, and securing a loan. These opportunities are internally directed, like me getting better at cold approaching women or being fun to interact with. They’re intentional and within your control.

Outside the business, opportunities are things like selling to a new market, developing a new product, or launching a marketing campaign targeting a trend. These opportunities are externally directed, like noticing when the barista is interested in you. They’re responsive and initiatives you can only influence.

Both internal and external opportunities offer legitimate paths to grow. But you might be barking up the wrong tree if your best opportunities are in the opposite camp.

If your operations are locked down for your current level, the opportunities within your business may all be low impact. Conversely, if your operations are a mess, pursuing an external opportunity will just lead the faster accumulation of new problems.

One of my working theories is that we have an internal or external change bias. Mine is internal. When I try to achieve change, I look within. The consequence is that I address internal opportunities, while external ones are missed.

If you were to look at your history, where have you focused your attention and energy? Are there easier opportunities on the other side of the fence?

Featured image is Venice in the 1730s by Canaletto. This was the environment Casanova grew up in. His “success” as a womanizer was attributed to his seeking out women in unfortunate circumstances and rescuing them. Externally focused opportunist. Used under public domain.