Hoping the Best: From the Imperative of Possibilities and Necessities

Perhaps the problem in dealing with opportunities is best illustrated by the example of ChatGPT, the colossal impact of artificial intelligence on everyone. While some are downright euphoric about the new possibilities, others react almost panic-stricken with demonization. Should we now agree with one or the other? Perhaps a differentiated examination of the topic of "opportunities" in this text may be of assistance. But who says that the text is not created by artificial intelligence – for example ChatGPT – and is therefore tendentious?

Opportunities – the Stepchild of Classic Quality Management

It happened on a Tuesday in September. To be precise, it was September 15, 2015. On this special day, something extraordinary happened: "Opportunities" found their way into the quality management systems to be designed in the future. "Opportunities" were suddenly embedded in the standard text of ISO 9001, and many to all wondered, "Opportunities?"

Addressing both risks and opportunities provides a basis for increasing the effectiveness of the quality management system, achieving improved results, and avoiding negative impacts. (ISO 9001:2015, chap. 0.0.3) While the handling of risks in QM systems was very well known and people were familiar with it, the handling of opportunities immediately and until today – presented an almost insoluble challenge. This is very often expressed in the fact that opportunities are only seen in the achievement of set goals. However, this is understandably not meant, because that is Plan, Do and Check, possibly still Act. But opportunities arise beyond "Plan" and "Do". Opportunities, but also risks, arise from the unexpected. From what was not expected, what was not in the "Plan" and what can now have a positive or negative effect. "Hoping the best, expecting the worst", as Alphaville sing in their world hit "Forever young". One knows how to prevent negative effects and does everything possible to achieve just that; that is a tradition. But what about the potentially positive effects? So what to do?

The Problem with the Opportunity of Opportunities

In contrast to opportunities, risks have a significant "advantage" in the minds of those who act: Risks threaten something that already exists. On the one hand, what already exists is concrete, and on the other hand, it is usually valued. Risks that threaten irrelevant things are not perceived as risks. Therefore, the most important thing is to protect what is valued, familiar and proven against loss: the consequence of this is classic risk management.

Opportunities, on the other hand, are only imagined: they are not (yet) concrete and they can therefore not (yet) be valued, because the perhaps possible outcome is not (yet) present. It is not there before and after the missed opportunity, which is mostly not even perceived, it is not there either. Nothing much has changed, so to speak. The consequence: managing risks is a duty. Managing opportunities is a kind of freestyle.

In organizations, it is often pretended that opportunities are not needed. Maybe not consciously, but unconsciously. First of all, wanting to take advantage of an opportunity means recognizing it. As a rule, opportunities do not impose themselves; they open up to those who recognize them. But who is that in companies? In management systems, there are usually no systems in place for this. This is in contrast to dealing with risks. There we have famous instruments such as the FMEA with a maximum objectified risk priority number. So where is the opportunity priority number?

The fact that "risk" by definition also includes "opportunities" should only be mentioned here in passing. The decisive factor is the understanding of risk in everyday life. There, no one will speak of risks when opportunities are meant. Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that wanting to take advantage of opportunities always means that this may not work out in the end. An opportunity is what it is: an opportunity. In an environment of uncertainty. It can go well. But it doesn't have to.

Recognizing opportunities as opportunities at an early stage is obligatory from an entrepreneurial point of view. On the one hand, because it is dangerous for your own organization if competitors recognize and exploit opportunities – and you do not. On the other hand, it is dangerous because not only the competitor, but the entire market can develop away: then a potential opportunity has probably turned into a risk that has materialized. There are enough examples from economic history. So what needs to be done? We need to focus on the opportunity to recognize opportunities.

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Opportunities – a Six-Step Approach in the Context of QM Systems

What might a systematic approach in QM systems look like? For example, could six steps be defined here that have some kind of generality? I think so. An imperative attempt:

  1. Agree on a catchy vision for your organization and define vision-oriented goals! Do this generously! Distinguish between what you want to achieve in the long term and what can be considered more specific actions. The more specific the objective, the fewer points of connection to the outside world, i.e., opportunities. As an example from a previous Q.Magazine, "We want our company to make a positive contribution to society" is better as an objective than "We want to bolt a photovoltaic system onto our roof" – which can simply be seen as a measure with no opportunity potential.
  2. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses! For example, conduct serious SWOT analyses for your organization. SWOT analyses are "down to the nitty gritty" and therefore cannot be created in a few hours. The advantage: external and internal perspectives are intertwined and "opportunity derivations" are made from them. Use other tools to support this, such as the classic Ansoff matrix. Action-oriented opportunity fields will emerge from within.
  3. Observe the market, the megatrends and the environment! What are the needs and problems of your potential customers and other stakeholders? Needs! Not just requirements! What are the developments and changes in your industry? What opportunities does this create for whom? Increased fairness in the supply chain can also be an opportunity. I will address these topics in the next part of this article.  
  4. Poke systematically, find opportunities out of context and ask yourself how you can connect your goals with your strengths! How can you meet or exceed the needs of your target group – and that goes far beyond customers? It can't just be about your own business, returns and customers: It must be about thinking far beyond that. It's about opportunities for everyone! It's about the macro system (see my article in Q.Magazine 2021). Create a "rummage system" and regularly schedule a "rummage time" necessary for it. And: This is not a task for a newly introduced "rummage officer" or an idea manager. All levels of the hierarchy must want to get actively involved here. This brings us to a possible step 5:

  5. Evaluate and test your rummaged ideas and solutions that are opportunities for stakeholders. For example, turn the FMEA around! Make it an opportunity priority number! What is the significance of the opportunity if it can be exploited: for your business goals, for your stakeholders, for your company as a whole? It's not just about sales, profits and returns. Opportunities need to be seen and understood more globally. It's about optimization, not maximization. Use a transparent and comprehensible system. You can also develop an opportunity- focused "materiality analysis" instead of an FMEA. This is the only way to get out of the arbitrariness trap or the "we don't have time for that now" trap.

  6. Involve all stakeholders! When it comes to opportunities for the future of the organization, there must be no uninformed and disinterested people. All organizational members need awareness of possible options and ideas. And they need the realistic opportunity to be taken seriously with their ideas and to have a corresponding impact. Thus, we are back to the serious systematics already mentioned several times. As an aside, companies that are known for seizing opportunities are considered innovative and are therefore attractive to the vast majority of customers and employees. So it's not just about recognizing and exploiting opportunities, it's also about selling them internally and externally!

The Opportunity of Opportunities – an Attempt at Upheaval

All beginnings are difficult. So they say. Perhaps they are. Especially if you don't know where to even begin. To ask "Where do you see your opportunities in the future?" is hardly answerable, because the question is far too arbitrary. Therefore, the determinations just described regarding the vision and goals derived from it cannot be circumvented. With this vision and these goals, we move into the topics that impose themselves on everyone. Exactly at this point a permanent feedback from the topics back to the goals and if necessary up to the vision takes place. ChatGPT – to give it as an example again – did not play a significant role until the end of 2022. That has changed radically since this year. Energy costs did not play a significant role until the end of 2021. That has changed radically since 2022. Managing opportunities is a permanent interplay between the competence of the organization and the context of the organization. For the most part, the permanently changing context can be perceived as a threat to what exists. "Can our business be replaced by AI?" or "Is sustainability legislation a threat to us?" This threat perspective needs to be overturned.

To conclude, a representative attempt will be made here to move from "expecting the worst" to "hoping the best" in three questions each on exemplary ten topics.

Opportunity: Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence
  1. Where can we increase our efficiency through digitalization of our processes?
  2. Where can we optimize our decisions through "business intelligence"?
  3. How can we use AI (e.g. ChatGPT) to have unloved activities performed?
Opportunity: Sustainability
  1. Where can we as an organization make a positive social impact?
  2. How can we as a sustainable company gain in reputation?
  3. How can we as an organization create honest "green and blue" offerings?
Opportunity: Demographic Change
  1. Do we make consistent use of the experience of long-term employees?
  2. Are we an attractive employer for older employees or job seekers?
  3. Do we offer specific services for older employees that benefit everyone?
Opportunity: Education
  1. As a company, do we contribute to social development through education?
  2. Does education and training play a key role in our company?
  3. Do we succeed in attracting well-trained people to our company?
Opportunity: Collaboration
  1. Do we have or are we looking for long-term partnerships that benefit all sides?
  2. Can we at least compensate for weaknesses through partnerships?
  3. Do we have the willingness to reflect and learn from partners?
Opportunity: Diversity, Equality, Inclusion
  1. Have we ever evaluated our organization on these topics?
  2. Do we use the perspectives created by diversity and equality that have arisen in the company?
  3. Are we becoming a valuable trendsetter through diversity, equality, and inclusion?
Opportunity: Labor Shortage
  1. Can we use flexible working time models to attract new employees ...
  2. ... and thereby bring new perspectives into the company?
  3. Do we know what makes our company attractive, perhaps unique?
Opportunity: Customer Centricity
  1. Do we understand the needs of our customers or do we only know their requirements?
  2. Do our employees focus on the differentiated customer experience?
  3. Do we put the customer relationship first and work on it constantly?
Opportunity: Mobility
  1. Do we attach a special, differentiated value to the topic of mobility?
  2. Do we look for ways to reduce mobility in and for work?
  3. Do we promote alternative forms of mobility systematically and holistically?
Opportunity: Resilience
  1. Do we have an agile corporate culture in which all employees contribute?
  2. Do we permanently develop alternative B plans, that can also become A plans?
  3. Can we show ourselves to the outside world as a robust and reliable business partner?

We can see dangers in all topics. Seeing opportunities in them is not easy in some cases. "Expecting the worst" is easy, but it becomes difficult afterwards. "Hoping the best" requires commitment from all levels if it is not to remain just apathetic hoping. The ISO 9001 management standard calls for just that in Chapter 6.1: In planning for the quality management system, the organization must determine the risks and opportunities that need to be addressed. Opportunities may lead to the adoption of new practices, the launch of new products, the development of new markets, new customer acquisition, partnership building, the use of new techniques, and other desirable and feasible ways to address the needs of the organization or its customers. What of these might be useful and worthwhile for your organization must be decided systematically, transparently and regularly across different levels; in line with the principle of "fact-based decision making". But the decision always lies with us. Just as it was my decision to take the chance of having this text written by artificial intelligence. I decided against it. This time ...  

Teaser for the "Risk Management" module of the Babtec software
Take a Holistic View at Risks and Opportunities

Recognizing risks at an early stage, but also being aware of opportunities and seizing them, is part of everyday entrepreneurial life. In future, Babtec's risk management software will support you in taking a holistic view of all business risks and opportunities in the context of your management system.

To the module "Risk Managagement"

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