Opportunity

Insights on opportunity culled from literature, psychology, religion, history, sociology, criminology, law, biology, business, poetry, anthropology, economics, physics and philosophy.


From President Barack Obama

"I applaud you for taking a systematic, scientific approach to studying this issue."

letter to author 4/20/06


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Opportunity knocks, but it doesn’t break the door down. Mark Twain said he was “seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” Francis Bacon wrote that “a wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.” Albert Einstein noted that “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” And Rabelais reported “I have known many who could not when they would, for they had not done it when they could.” Is our understanding of opportunity limited to clever sayings, homely folk wisdom, and contradictory aphorisms or can we mount a more systematic approach to learning what makes an opportunity?

An eclectic investigation of opportunity. Chapters address characteristics of opportunity in its natural settings. The discussion touches on equality of opportunity, poverty and the lack of opportunity, opportunity in religion, marketing, law and entreprenurship. The question of how opportunity differs from opportunism is answered.

Chapter one presents a model of opportunity. Based on this model readers are challenged to answer such questions as:

• Are more opportunities available now than fifty years ago? One hundred years ago? A thousand years ago? If so, is this due to an actual change in the world or to a shift in our perceptions; or is it just a linguistic fact resulting from the increased popularity and overuse of the word opportunity?

• Has our concept of opportunity evolved or changed—not merely the kinds of opportunities available?

• Is seeking an opportunity and failing to realize it distinguishable from mistaking a situation for an opportunity when it is not one?

• Is an opportunity the best alternative in a particular situation or only the best alternative from among those we considered? If we fail to consider all of our options does this mean that what we choose is not an opportunity?

• If recognizing opportunity involves anticipating the future, do advances in the methods we use to predict the future alter our recognition of opportunities?

• If good opportunities exist does this mean there must be bad opportunities?

• Are the opportunities sought by an opportunist mistakes in judgment or bad opportunities?

• Does opportunity have an ethical dimension? In calling something an opportunity, are we making a moral recommendation? Is this part of an opportunity’s value?

• Is opportunity like a pie that may be sliced into more or fewer pieces with the total remaining constant, but the pieces smaller or larger? When we advocate equality of opportunity are we thereby promoting a dilution of the value of the opportunities available to us by spreading them over a greater number of people?

• Is it possible that the more accommodating the social and political environment becomes to opportunity, especially the ideal of equal opportunity, the less opportunity there actually is?

• Are there really more opportunities for the wealthy and well educated, as is popularly supposed, or only certain kinds of opportunity? If opportunity relates to improving an individual’s life condition, isn’t there less room for improvement if someone’s life is already going quite well?

• Does equality of opportunity imply equal access to the same levels of achievement or end results, or does it refer instead to equal access to upward movement relative to a given starting point?

• Is the amount of opportunity in the world constant or changing? Has it ebbed and flowed at different times in history?

• Given the elements of opportunity described in the model, what are we to make of situations that appear to encompass opportunities involving the context or elements themselves? (Examples would be “ an opportunity to avoid a problem,” “an opportunity to solve a problem,” “an opportunity to avoid regret,” “an opportunity to make a sacrifice,” or “an opportunity to avoid risk,” and so on.)

After a comprehensive exploration of opportunity in the intervening chapters, chapter 15 supplies the author's answers.

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Senator Barack Obama --

"I . . . applaud you for taking a systematic, scientific approach to studying this issue."

(Letter to author
4/​20/​06)