Utilizing Planned Opportunism to Prepare for the Future
With the U.S. and global society beginning to open up following the pandemic, the idea of ‘Planned Opportunism’ is a concept that organizations can use to quickly take advantage of new opportunities and jump ahead of their competition.
As defined by Vijay Govindarajan, Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, “Planned Opportunism” is the term for responding to an unpredictable future by paying attention to weak signals.
“Early evidence of emerging trends from which it is possible to deduce important changes in demography, technology, customer tastes and needs, and economic, environmental, regulatory, and political forces. That attention gives rise to fresh perspectives and nonlinear thinking, which help an organization imagine and plan for various plausible futures. Planned Opportunism is a discipline that creates a “circulatory system” for new ideas; develops the capacity to prioritize, investigate, and act on those ideas; and builds an adaptive culture that embraces continual change.” 
Planned Opportunism requires organizations to understand that the future is unpredictable and uncontrollable – especially the environment outside an organization’s four walls involving customers, competitors and trends such as technological changes or economic cycles. However, the ability to diverge from linear thinking and identify weak signals and emerging trends, prioritize them and then test and learn these, is the best way to control and plan for the future.
While the competition may be stuck focusing on current successes, existing structure and the status quo, those with the ability to lean forward and grab subtle daily cues into the future can leapfrog the competition. These daily cues should be gathered beyond leadership and strategic insight teams. Organizations can benefit from cross-functional brainstorming sessions or idea submission processes to funnel in a large breadth of ideas to test.
Using Planned Opportunism will shift perspectives and reveal new business opportunities by challenging the current visions, beliefs and values of an organization.
How can Line of Sight Group help organizations achieve Planned Opportunism?
When we work with our clients to help them plan for, and take advantage of, future changes in their business environment, our approach is to help them create that ‘circulatory system’ through our Strategic Intelligence Program. The idea is simple. We cast a wide net over the entire business landscape in which our client operates and systematically use those weak signals to power strategic decisions and innovation. Working closely with the management team, we pay close attention to the changes that might result in opportunities or risks to their business. We then identify the kinds of market and industry signals that will indicate those changes and set up “listening posts” in the environment to capture the signal data and send it to a central repository. Then we analyze it using machine learning to identify and report on significant activity and trends.
Of course, these market and industry signals can be interpreted as opportunities, as risks, or as both. Once identified, the signals can be prioritized by analyzing them to understand size, industry and market consequences and implications for the organization itself.
For the highest priorities, we work with our clients to develop hypotheses about the future. Deep research aims to clarify the opportunity or risk and assess its future impact so that the management team has a high level of confidence and can have meaningful dialogue. Here we dissect the signals through a combination of secondary and primary research that works to understand the drivers and gain multiple perspectives through executive interviews.
With the confidence gained through the research steps, the management team can now make judgements and decisions on small investments. Those that are promising are often moved into short, low-cost, low-risk experiments that further validate the opportunity or risk and give the management team the ability to begin making necessary resource allocation decisions. It is important to keep in mind that the future is not some far-off point. Instead, it arrives in daily doses. Successful organizations understand that the future is unpredictable, but they develop capabilities that enable them to identify weak signals and emerging trends and use them to better prepare for the future. Planned Opportunism starts with assembling the necessary tools, processes and expertise and then engaging in a systematic approach that will process and make sense of those daily doses of the future. The result is an adaptive culture that minimizes ‘fire drills’, embraces change and is prepared to move quickly and continuously to provide better value for their customers than the competition.
 Govindarajan, 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/05/planned-opportunism)