Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenVtyjugWnJrkxLOUBner@ChacDJdhAQhhmJqLlSbtoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A young managerDealing with Org Chart Age Inversions
What happens when you learn that your new boss is younger than you are? Or when the first two applicants you interview for a position reporting to you are ten years older than you are? Do you have a noticeable reaction to org chart age inversions?
Threatened and fearfulThe Costs of Threats
Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.
The 1991 eruption of Mount PinatuboManaging Pressure: Communications and Expectations
Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part I of a little catalog of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.
A rescue puppyYou Can't Control What Other People Think
Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think? Maybe it would be. And maybe not...
A meeting of people and their laptopsExploiting Functional Fixedness
Functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that creates difficulty in seeing novel uses of things that have familiar uses. Some devious moves in workplace politics exploit functional fixedness.

See also Workplace Politics and Ethics at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesComing April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
A shark of unspecified speciesAnd on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenkBDEoNIcTRbmYtVBner@ChacngDHULqRbciVQYqNoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.