The Opportunity Engine

Melissa and AJ Leon

In previous years, and including this year, I tend to talk negatively about South By Southwest Interactive (also known as SXSWi). It’s an annual event in Austin, Texas, that has turned in recent years into lots of frail attempts at brand outreach and countless parties. Heck, I co-hosted a party this year, too, so I’m throwing stones at myself for putting it that way, but that’s what it’s become, if you let it. (Hint: “if you let it.”)

What I almost forgot was that every event is what we make of it. Every event is a chance to make an opportunity happen. The trick, however, is that we have to be diligent and open to such opportunities, and we have to have a sense of what we’d like to see happen.

The Opportunity Engine

It’s your duty to create an opportunity engine for yourself. This is essentially a mix of the following elements:

  • Your goals and mission (and the will to advance your own ideas or causes).
  • Your drive to take the initiative to make something happen.
  • Your ability to find the people or resources you need.
  • Your capabilities in serving or helping other people.
  • Your ability to communicate.
  • Your ability to collaborate.

I’ll give you an example.

I ran into Gary Vaynerchuk on the street outside my hotel at SXSW, and we talked for a few minutes about this and that. Because I hadn’t really been ready, I didn’t talk about what I might have wanted to cover. Instead, I went down a weird road that didn’t really help either of us. It was nice to see Gary, but I should have spent the time talking to him about his own world more. I didn’t need or want anything.

In another example, I did what I should have. I ran into Brian McKinney and Glen Stansberry from Gentlemint and I was able to quickly express my goals/desires for their service, could clearly explain my ideas, and made some recommendations and an offer that I felt might be helpful to the gents. It was nearly the opportunity engine should have worked (no matter what happens next), though I probably should have asked more clearly what I could do to be helpful to them, instead of simply prescribing my thoughts on what I could do to help them.

Notice That It’s a Two-Way Experience

In explaining the opportunity engine, it’s your obligation to lead with your goals in mind, and it’s you who must take the initiative, but it’s a two-party experience, where you should attempt to be just as helpful and serving of others as you are interested in seeking ways to advance your own ideas or causes. It’s your obligation to collaborate in some way, which means to give back as much as (or more than) you ask for from another person. (This is where it often fails, by the way, because people are greedy, either intentionally or accidentally.)

Create and Facilitate Opportunity

Next year, Jacq and I plan to attend SXSW Interactive, and we intend to play during SXSW music. For my time during Interactive, I promise not to gripe about all the parties and the silly drunkenness. Instead, I will go with my mind set on helping others with their opportunities, and I will go with a few of my own plans in mind as well. I will seek out meetings with others who might make good collaborators, and I’ll listen and be ready to help when talking with someone from whom I don’t need anything in particular.

Create and facilitate opportunities. You and I both miss many chances to do this every week. Let’s make this week the first of many celebrations of our fortune: the richness of the friends and colleagues we’ve met over the last while, and let’s reach out to see how we can better operate our opportunity engines to help others, and maybe to advance our own causes, too.

Remember the Engine

Remember to:

  1. Think with your goals and mission in mind (and the will to advance your own ideas or causes).
  2. Take the initiative to make something happen.
  3. Find the people or resources you need.
  4. Serve or help other people.
  5. Communicate your ideas and stories clearly.
  6. Collaborate where it makes sense.

And I’ll see you at the next big event.

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