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Problem / Opportunity Definition

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"Every problem has a gift for you in its hands." - Richard Bach

This is an elaboration of the Problem Definition section of the Decision Analysis unit.

Probortunity IS the Word

Someone coined the word "probortunity" to combine the word "problem" with the word "opportunity" as a reminder to look at problems as possible opportunities.

I like the word because in the B-school environment we optimists always had difficulty thinking of challenges and opportunities when situations were described to us as problems. As well, repeating it to ourselves and others helps establish a mindset for viewing all problems as potential opportunities.

"Always be on the lookout for that spark of opportunity that could change your life or someone close to you forever." - Peter Simmons

First, during and last

The Probortunity Definition section of a Decision Analysis is similar to the Executive Summary of a Business Plan. It is composed before, during and after the other sections are written. It appears at the beginning of a document.

Composing is the process by which the probortunity is: (a) first perceived, (b) becomes clarified as thoughts develop and information is gathered, (c) divided if found to be more than one issue and, (d) is synthesized from an overview of all the parts.

State in broad terms, at first, since the exact probortunity may not be obvious. At the outset, you may lack the information to write a complete definition. More insight can be revealed during the Gather Information stage.

You can confuse symptoms with underlying causes. Avoid mistaking the probortunity's symptoms (shortage of money) for the probortunity itself (poor spending habits, too much debt, etc.)

Get it right!

Think of the waste of time and energy in solving the wrong probortunity. Or worse, proceeding with the wrong action plan.

Return to the definition often to make sure you have it right. This tends to keep the probortunity in the forefront of your thinking. If you have faith and good communication between your conscious and sub-conscious each return to the definition stimulates new insights.

Don't be satisfied with quick and easy answers.

"Confidence comes out of experience in facing problems and toiling to solve them." - M. K. Soni

What is your probortunity?

Peter Drucker said effective executives asked, "What needs to be done?" and "What is right for the enterprise?" They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.

Compose your definition in the context of the challenges your enterprise and your industry is facing, in terms of the goals you have set for your enterprise and the opportunities you seek. Ask yourself, "What prevents you from reaching your goal?"

"The older I get, the more wisdom I find in the ancient rule of taking first things first - a process which often reduces the most complex human problems to manageable proportions" - Dwight Eisenhower

Consider these stimulating questions:

  • Is there more than one probortunity?
  • Is it my personal probortunity? Is it the enterprise's probortunity?
  • Is it an actual probortunity or just an annoyance?
  • Is this the real probortunity, or merely a symptom of a larger one?
  • Is this an old problem? What's wrong with the previous solution?
  • Can I solve it? Can the solution costs be justified?

"Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them." - Laurence J. Peter

  • Does it need immediate attention, or can it wait?
  • Is the problem likely to go away by itself?
  • Can I risk ignoring it?

"Again and again, the impossible decision is solved when we see that the problem is only a tough decision waiting to be made." - Dr. Robert Schuller

  • Does the probortunity have ethical dimensions?
  • Does the probortunity have environmental implications?
  • Is the probortunity contravening legal or regulatory conditions?
  • What conditions must the solution satisfy?
  • Will the solution affect something that must remain unchanged?
  • What do I want to achieve by making this decision - what are my goals?
  • Which of these goals must be met to solve this probortunity?
  • What are my priorities?

"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." - Milton Berle

Show and Tell

Once you have a relatively clear statement, review it with someone you trust and/or a person with a vested interest in the solution.

Look at it from all angles - word association, people involved (if removed or added), draw a diagram or picture, doodle and connect the dots, put into a mindmap.

"Positive thinking is how you THINK about a problem. Enthusiasm is how you FEEL about a problem. The two together determine what you DO about a problem." - Dale Carnegie

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