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Published:September 17th, 2013 11:58 EST

Success In Work And Life Comes to Opportunity Hunters

By Jay Forte

When the recession hit 5 years ago, company after company laid off some of their best people in an effort to cut costs. They released amazing talent to the workplace that other savvy companies were able to hire in a moment to build a more powerful team. These savvy companies know that to survive a recession, they can`t stay the same. They know to get the best people and find/create new opportunities. Many of these companies had a windfall when others had a fall.

There is a misconception that when tough economic times happen, opportunities diminish; that the best way to respond to a down economy is to cut back on spending and scale things back. However, as many wise companies that survived the recession know, when times get tough you activate your teams into becoming opportunity hunters. You keep your best talent and have them go out and find new and meaningful ways of adding value.

The success of any business is in its ability to know its competitive advantage, know its world, and constantly find or create opportunities that connect what they do best with a need, challenge or opportunity in the world. They constantly search for ways to redefine success based on what the world serves them in the moment " and make this everyone`s job.

Successful organizations train, empower and incentivize their employees to be opportunity hunters. The remind employees that they are the eyes and the ears of the organization, gathering information and looking for ways to connect their unique capabilities and the organization`s core abilities to provide new and meaningful applications. Many of the organizations that failed in the recession held firmly to who they were instead of rethinking how to reinvent and repackage what they do best to address a new and changed world and workplace; they clung to their outdated script and quickly became irrelevant or non-competitive.

Though we are nearly recovered from the recession, this lesson of becoming opportunity hunters is still as germane. I am teaching an entrepreneurship and innovation to a class of freshman business majors. In addition to introducing the core concepts of business my focus is to help them develop the art of opportunity hunting. Great entrepreneurs look at their world through an opportunity lens " gathering information and assessing for opportunities in all they see.

What I am finding is that these 35 freshmen have never developed their opportunity hunting abilities. They have been trained to take notes, believe what they hear from teachers and follow the syllabus. They want to know what to study, how to get an A and what the right answer looks like. This is not life. And this is surely not the workplace. Success comes to those with a vigilant and creative eye and an ear to the ground.

It is a free-for-all in the workplace " where success goes to the innovators and those who can see or invent opportunities. Therefore, the goal of this class is to shift the students` perspective away from looking for the right " answer to one of identifying meaningful opportunities. To help them learn this skill, they start each class by sharing what they have found out about today`s hottest jobs, hottest products, news from outside the country, what is hot in social media or what are the new big ideas.

The goal is to get the students to expand their view of the world " to use what they hear and see as a method of gathering information to activate ideas. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. They learn how to start to see that possibilities and opportunities come from regular information " and the more information, the greater possibility for creating responses that are valuable, meaningful and impactful.

Opportunity hunting is as critical at home as it is in the workplace. Kids claim to be bored if they don`t have some video game or computer application to entertain them. They have abdicated their creative abilities to technology and premade games. At the risk of sounding like my grandparents, when we were younger growing up in a large Italian family, we rarely had anything new. We were challenged to go and connect to our world to find ways to develop our hobbies, connect with what we like to do or invent something with whatever we found around the house. Few things were premade, pre-thought or pre-created " that was left up to us. We became effective at seeing opportunities to entertain ourselves, invent things and show up big to our lives. This thinking still guides my five siblings and me in our work and lives; we are opportunity hunters.

Both the workplace and our homes suffer from a lack of opportunity hunting. Our world is fresh at every moment, particularly with how technology now connects us to amazing amounts of information. We have the ability to see the challenges, issues and problems that are affecting some group, some company, some user, some customer or some family and can use our specific talents to create a meaningful response. We can find our way in our wild world by seeking out opportunities that fit our best abilities and respond to a need.

As I tell my class, ideas solve problems. Entrepreneurs solve problems. For entrepreneurs, information inspires the hunt for opportunities. They watch for ways to invent, innovate and create " all to add value and make a difference.

Great times teach us to celebrate; tough times teach us to innovate. Most organizations and people throw in the towel when things change or get tough " because they have been trained to hold on to the past instead of to look to invent a new future. We are capable of realigning our thinking to welcome both good and tough times as the environment to search for opportunities to show up larger, more successful and with greater influence.

Success comes to those who connect their best abilities with opportunities in their world or work to do what they do best to add value and make a difference. We all can do this. I still find few choose it. I am determined that my class of 35 students will move into the world and become epic opportunity hunters " to create ways to be successful in work and life regardless of what comes at them.