Knowing When to Say No

funny-flowerVery early in my career, one of my best friends said something to me.

He said; “Keenan, your an opportunist. That’s what makes you so good.”

My buddy was right, I am an opportunist. It may have been what’s made me good, but it’s also been my achilles heel. Early in my career, everything was an opportunity. I could see the benefit, the upside, the angle, the opportunity in almost everything in front of me. Like an over zealous Labrador puppy I would zero in on every opportunity and pursue them until I got them. This drive and ability to see opportunity served me well early in my career.

As my career moved a long a funny thing began to happen. This skill or trait of mine began to cause me problems. As the opportunities became more complex, with higher stakes, I began to fail more often. I would waste time chasing and at times catching opportunities that weren’t worth the effort. My naivete would get the best of me and although I would see great opportunities I would be ill equipped to capitalize on them. I would miss the risk. I would underestimate the effort. I would miscalculate the return. My greatest skill was now getting in the way.

As time has passed I’ve come to see why. The skill is not seeing the opportunity in everything, it’s being able to see the right opportunities among all the opportunities. Seeing the opportunities is the skill, choosing the right opportunities is the talent.

I was recently approached by a recruiter who represented one of our competitors about a significant position. After a short call with the recruiter, I expressed my interest. The opportunist in me took over. I could see tons of opportunity for my career, my bank account, and my personal development. As we ended the call the recruiter agreed to send me more information on the position and we were going to talk once I had a chance to read.

As I read the information, it occurred to me. This isn’t an opportunity for me. Although there were some opportunities, overall it wasn’t an opportunity. The competitor is a distant 4th in our space. Their North American revenue is less than 50% of my current companies. Our industry is expected to decline or stay flat over the next 3 years. Powerful new competitors such as Microsoft are entering the space and are a real threat to the legacy players. In my current position, I have never lost to this competitor. I don’t think this company can achieve a leadership position in our space.

Five years ago, I would have fought tooth and nail for this position. I would have done everything to get it. I would have zeroed in on the opportunities with tunnel vision and ignored, or justified the negatives. Today, I see it differently. I don’t want to work for the #4 or #5 company in our space. Our space is going through tremendous change. Enterprise communication is changing rapidly. Going to work with a back of the pack legacy company is not an opportunity. It’s a risk. My team would have to work twice as hard to compete. Recruiting top talent would be a huge challenge. Retention would also be a challenge. These and other challenges are amplified when you aren’t the leaders in your industry. And all of these things make the job that much more difficult. I don’t want to work for a company that isn’t positioned well to compete with the new competitors. I want to work were to work there is an opportunity to win. Therefore, I graciously declined moving forward.

Being an opportunist is great, you see thing others don’t. However the key is to see the RIGHT opportunities and until you do, know when to say no.