What If… People Focused on Opportunities?

I am renting out my house in Rotterdam to strangers. I rarely make use of it anyway. (And I have another home in Brussels too.) So why not let someone else enjoy my apartment?

Interestingly, this decision has led to some concerns from my friends:

  1. What if those strangers steal your stuff?
  2. What if they make copies of your keys?
  3. What if they use your phone to make expensive calls?
  4. What if they get access to your computer?
  5. What if… what if… what if…

Sure, these are good questions.

But I find it strange that I never got questions such as these:

  1. What if those strangers become good friends?
  2. What if they fix the broken lamps?
  3. What if they present an unexpected business opportunity?
  4. What if they keep the house safe from burglars?
  5. What if… what if… what if…

These are good questions too. But nobody considers them. Except me.

Here’s a fragment of my book, relating to this issue:

People often favor risk avoidance over opportunity seeking. They look at uncertainty as something that is more likely to have a negative outcome than a positive one. (Or they estimate the cost of potential problems to be greater than the benefit of positive outcomes.)

A good example is the often cited “threat” of non-native species being transported by humans from one ecosystem to another. Many environmentalists are actively trying to address this “threat.” But research has shown that only in a few percent of the cases non-native species had a significant and bad effect on existing ecosystems. In most other cases, the effects of “alien” species on native ecosystems were neutral, or even positive. [Davis, Mark. “Living with aliens.” NewScientist. 26 September 2009.]

I seem to be different from most people. I usually focus on opportunities first, and risks later. When I invite non-native entities into my ecosystem, my first thoughts are not about all kinds of dangers. Instead, I imagine interesting opportunities. And for good reasons.

For example, within an hour after I invited my first guest into my house, it turns out he might have a new employment opportunity for my housekeeper.

Somehow, I was not surprised.

(Jurgen Appelo is author of Management 3.0, a best-selling management book for Agile developers. It has a picture of a monster in it.)

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  • BrianSJ
  • http://profile.typepad.com/ewokbbq Ewok_BBQ

    I definitely jump to the worst case scenario too much in life that’s for sure. This is a great reminder of what can open up if you don’t… Thanks for sharing this Jurgen.
    Cheers,
    Laszlo

  • http://profile.typepad.com/planboxinc PlanboxInc

    This is so true. Most of us have been brought up to be aware. We’ve been told not to engage with strangers who talk to us, take hitchhikers, invite strangers to live in your house when you aren’t there…
    For those of us who have been strictly brought up like this, thinking like you do is impossible. The risks always emerge first, even at work. Many times, the initial focus on risk is so big, we don’t even take the time to pinpoint the opportunities.
    We should all practice to stop our brain and try to perceive the opportunities before the risks. This is particularly important in agile when you need to balance the weight of the story based on difficulty points and value. Sometimes, developments that present some risks won’t get done even though the outcome will be used and loved by customer. Similarly, if you never let strangers into your house, you might miss out on lots of things you can’t even foresee.
    Mag, Planbox PO

  • http://giovanedilungocorso.blogspot.com Roberto

    Both my grandmathers (one died in 1982, the other in 1987) agree with you.
    They married veterans of World War I: One without a leg, the other with weak lungs. They knew the risks but gave more importance to the opportunities (Love!). Thanks to their way of seeing reality, I now exist.

  • Glen B Alleman

    Risk and Opportunity are not reciprocal elements of the probability space.
    See Effective Risk Management: Some Keys to Success, 2nd Edition,” Ed Conrow, AIAA Press and “Risk and Opportunity Management,” http://bit.ly/xbT4PV

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