How do you respond when a great opportunity presents itself? I’m a firm believer in finding and embracing new opportunities. But I don’t chase an opportunity without evaluating it according to some specific criteria.

How do I evaluate an opportunity? I run it through a series of tests. Only after it passes them do I take steps toward the goal.

1. The Murphy’s Law Test — What could possibly go wrong, and am I willing to accept the consequences if it does?
The question is not whether there will be problems; it’s what and how serious will they be? Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity,” so the fact that there will be problems is not a reason to abandon the opportunity. Instead, we need to anticipate problems before they happen. If we examine them first, then we can decide if the consequences will be manageable.

2. The Common Sense Test — Does this opportunity make sense, or am I trying to make sense out of it?
This is important because passion can often overpower common sense. We get excited about an opportunity and don’t look at it objectively. The result: We try to make something happen! Instead, we need to weigh an opportunity based on its own merits.

3. The Preparation Test — Am I prepared to do this?
John Wooden said, “When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” He knew that his basketball players needed to be prepared for the game, or they wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the opportunities within it.

Likewise, we need to be prepared with the necessary skills and abilities to meet opportunities. For example, I love to swim, and I try to swim an hour a day. But what if I was given the opportunity to compete in a race, at a distance I’d never swum before? It wouldn’t be smart for me to take on that challenge if I hadn’t prepared for it.
Here’s what preparation is not: Knowing all the answers before you start. The key is to recognize when you know enough to start down a road. Otherwise, you’ll be plagued with the paralysis of analysis.

4. The Options Test — Do I increase or decrease my options by waiting?
How quickly do you need to embrace an opportunity? Sometimes it’s smart to wait while you gather information or talk to advisors. But other times if you wait, the door to the opportunity closes.

Ask yourself what will happen to your options in the meantime. Will some be eliminated as time passes (for example, if someone else’s decision will impact it)? If waiting will eliminate an important option, decide now.

5. The Deadline Test — When is the best time to make the right decision?
I believe that serious decision-making only happens when a deadline is set. People naturally wait to move until they absolutely have to. So with this test, you give yourself a deadline for deciding. This motivates you to take a hard look at all the answers to the previous questions, and make a decision in a timely manner.

Lee Iacocca said, “The right decision is the wrong decision if it’s made too late.” By asking these questions about an opportunity, you increase your odds for success, because you keep yourself from chasing the wrong opportunity, going after one too soon, or missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

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