North, the North Star, true north—these are symbols for the pursuit of opportunity. The North Star has guided those in search of new horizons; north is the important point on a compass. North conveys a sense of upward direction or momentum. 90 Degrees north defines the mindset of the excellent manager—they have an opportunity focus. They are headed north—not south, east, or west. They are not focused on problems or on risks—but on opportunities.
This is extraordinarily important to understand. I have heard Presidential candidates who define themselves as problem solvers. I have interviewed many C-level job candidates quick to say “I’m a problem solver.” Those that did didn’t get the job. The thing about problems is when you solve one there is always another waiting in the wings. The team of the Excellent Company focuses on opportunities and problems get solved as a byproduct. Their attitude about problems is that not all problems need to be solved and, of those that do, not all of them need to be solved by you. Where are resources better spent? Solving problems or pursuing opportunities?
That is not to say that there aren’t problems that have to be solved. When they arise, look carefully for opportunities that often masquerade as problems or what the problems are a symptom of. If the problems must be tackled directly, don’t treat the symptoms, define the problem, and solve it once and for all.
The distinction between opportunities and problems is related to Effectiveness vs. Efficiency. Effectiveness is doing the right things. Efficiency is doing things right. Right things come down on the opportunity side of the ledger. Problems are usually related to not doing things right. Which is more important? Doing the right things. Recognizing and targeting the right opportunity, identifying the main thing success depends on, and adopting the right strategy— these are the things that give enterprises the chance to succeed. Right things open the door; efficiency improves success but cannot create the chance for success.
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