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Volume 9, Issue 43;   October 28, 2009: The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points

The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points

by

Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to assist you in your detective work.
A view of the damage to the Apollo 13 Service Module

A view of the Apollo 13 Service Module, just after it was jettisoned in preparation prior to re-entry of the Command Module on 17 April, 1970. The unit was severely damaged by an explosion in one of its oxygen tanks. This mission is perhaps one of history's most famous successful failures. A successful failure is a failure that nevertheless advances the program of which it is a part.

The ability to reframe failures as successful is a powerful tool for maintaining the emotional stance required for injecting oneself into situations that have uncertain outcomes. Photo courtesy U.S. national Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Last time, we examined the basics of distinguishing valuable political opportunities from riskier ventures. Since most people do eventually master the basics, advantage lies in mastering the finer points. Here are some of the less-often-recognized attributes of true political opportunities.

What happens when you miss is pretty good too
Even if pursuing the opportunity doesn't succeed, the next most likely outcome leaves you in a good position. This situation is often called successful failure. That "second prize" position might offer a variety of advantages: it might open a path to further opportunities, it might enhance your image, or it might enrich or create valuable relationships.
Your source is private
Opportunities that you learn about through private sources are usually more valuable. If your information about the opportunity is widely available, then in all likelihood, the opportunity is nothing special. If, on the other hand, the opportunity is something special, but it's being widely advertised internally, then the chances are good that it's "wired" for someone who learned of it long before you did. I know that sounds cynical, but that's the way it often works.
Your source is credible
It's a plus if the person who first alerts you to the opportunity has nothing to gain from your seizing it. If your source does have something to gain, it's possible that the information you received is slightly tilted; not necessarily by intention, but usually with the goal of biasing your choice in a direction that benefits your source most. That might be good or bad for you, but be aware of these effects.
The information is confirmed
When news of the opportunity reaches you through public channels, it's believable, though it might not be worth much since everyone has it. When the news reaches you through private channels, it could be more valuable, but it might not be valid. Seek confirmation discretely.
When news of an opportunity reaches
you through public channels, it's
believable, though it might not be
worth much since everyone has it
Unfavorable outcomes are relatively harmless
If you pursue the opportunity, and you secure it, you then have a chance to perform. If the outcome of that performance is success, you'll benefit. But if the end result is anything less, and you still are not harmed, the opportunity is clearly more valuable, because it presents little risk.
Pursuit is divisive
This advantage applies if you're operating in a toxic political environment, and only then. In a toxic environment, dividing your political opponents is advantageous. If merely pursuing the opportunity divides your opponents, that helps your cause. Securing the opportunity is usually even more helpful. But consider this: do you really want to remain in such an environment? Probably not.

Some feel that political considerations have no place when evaluating opportunities. Perhaps, in some organizations, they don't. Such organizations are rare. For most of us, Politics is part of Life. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Twenty-Three Thoughts  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

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