The Opportunity Engine

Melissa and AJ Leon

In previous years, and including this year, I tend to talk negatively about South By Southwest Interactive (also known as SXSWi). It’s an annual event in Austin, Texas, that has turned in recent years into lots of frail attempts at brand outreach and countless parties. Heck, I co-hosted a party this year, too, so I’m throwing stones at myself for putting it that way, but that’s what it’s become, if you let it. (Hint: “if you let it.”)

What I almost forgot was that every event is what we make of it. Every event is a chance to make an opportunity happen. The trick, however, is that we have to be diligent and open to such opportunities, and we have to have a sense of what we’d like to see happen.

The Opportunity Engine

It’s your duty to create an opportunity engine for yourself. This is essentially a mix of the following elements:

  • Your goals and mission (and the will to advance your own ideas or causes).
  • Your drive to take the initiative to make something happen.
  • Your ability to find the people or resources you need.
  • Your capabilities in serving or helping other people.
  • Your ability to communicate.
  • Your ability to collaborate.

I’ll give you an example.

I ran into Gary Vaynerchuk on the street outside my hotel at SXSW, and we talked for a few minutes about this and that. Because I hadn’t really been ready, I didn’t talk about what I might have wanted to cover. Instead, I went down a weird road that didn’t really help either of us. It was nice to see Gary, but I should have spent the time talking to him about his own world more. I didn’t need or want anything.

In another example, I did what I should have. I ran into Brian McKinney and Glen Stansberry from Gentlemint and I was able to quickly express my goals/desires for their service, could clearly explain my ideas, and made some recommendations and an offer that I felt might be helpful to the gents. It was nearly the opportunity engine should have worked (no matter what happens next), though I probably should have asked more clearly what I could do to be helpful to them, instead of simply prescribing my thoughts on what I could do to help them.

Notice That It’s a Two-Way Experience

In explaining the opportunity engine, it’s your obligation to lead with your goals in mind, and it’s you who must take the initiative, but it’s a two-party experience, where you should attempt to be just as helpful and serving of others as you are interested in seeking ways to advance your own ideas or causes. It’s your obligation to collaborate in some way, which means to give back as much as (or more than) you ask for from another person. (This is where it often fails, by the way, because people are greedy, either intentionally or accidentally.)

Create and Facilitate Opportunity

Next year, Jacq and I plan to attend SXSW Interactive, and we intend to play during SXSW music. For my time during Interactive, I promise not to gripe about all the parties and the silly drunkenness. Instead, I will go with my mind set on helping others with their opportunities, and I will go with a few of my own plans in mind as well. I will seek out meetings with others who might make good collaborators, and I’ll listen and be ready to help when talking with someone from whom I don’t need anything in particular.

Create and facilitate opportunities. You and I both miss many chances to do this every week. Let’s make this week the first of many celebrations of our fortune: the richness of the friends and colleagues we’ve met over the last while, and let’s reach out to see how we can better operate our opportunity engines to help others, and maybe to advance our own causes, too.

Remember the Engine

Remember to:

  1. Think with your goals and mission in mind (and the will to advance your own ideas or causes).
  2. Take the initiative to make something happen.
  3. Find the people or resources you need.
  4. Serve or help other people.
  5. Communicate your ideas and stories clearly.
  6. Collaborate where it makes sense.

And I’ll see you at the next big event. runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • MikSas

    Cuts to the chase. Straight to the point. I am inspired to do something with this post. Thank You, Chris. 

    • Chris Brogan

      That’s all I can hope. : ) 

  • Ranjan

    Great lesson for entrepreneurs and for the one who wants to be successful in life.

    • Chris Brogan

      Those two circles overlap, I’d say. : ) 

  • Rick Manelius

    Mark Victor Hansen once gave a piece of advice to not only prepare for a conversation… but actively ask people you meet if they know anyone in your top 10 “I want to meet” list. You never know you may connect with through a friend of a friend.

    • Chris Brogan

      He’s so very right. I mgith make my list today. If I do, I’ll share it with only you. : ) 

      • Rick Manelius

        It’ll be fun if I actually know someone on your list :)

  • Buddy Scalera

    I love this post because it reminds me that I am not the only person who misses good opportunities. You can try to wing it, but if you don’t prepare, you can certainly walk away thinking, “why did I say that?” 

    Good sense of humor in this piece, Chris. Well done.

  • paul gothier

    How to Use Your WillPoer Engine Daily_Focus on using that Opportunity Engine to Help You and Your Collegues!

  • Konrad Rutten

    In sum, what you are talking about is creating synergy right?

    If you agree, what if we look at this from the stand point of chemistry and physics, how might this pertain ?

  • David Pylyp

    opportunity knocks on everyone’s door.  When you are prepared to respond and be proactive then….     I try to attend each lesson with a take away.   There might not be one from the speaker but the idea may spark from the audience.

    Your speaking appointments are appreciated.

    David Pylyp
    Living in Toronto

  • Jesse Petersen

    Your chat with Gary was exactly what I didn’t want to happen last year at SOBCon (I had a chance to talk to you outside the hotel on Thursday, but I didn’t have anything to say) – I’m so glad I waited to get the most out of a couple of minutes with you to pick your brain. I hope it didn’t hurt too much (thank God for small fingers).

    Opportunity is not only about seeing the opportunity, but walking through the open door and I completely agree that we should be ready to serve whichever side of the door we’re on in a new opportunity. Great tips, Chris.

    • Chris Brogan

      You’re fine, Jesse. I like who you are. : ) 

  • Rufus Dogg

    Usually, big events like SXSW or 140Conf or a bunch of other non-tech conferences that I attend are so far off that I think I have time to prepare and then they are right there — next week, tomorrow.. oh crap, I have not prepared as much as I needed to for the audience I will see. I find myself scrambling to arrange meetings, then relying on serendipity during the event and finally making rationalizations after the fact. Glad I am not alone.

    Like taxes…. March 31 and April 15.. oh, crap.. probably should start that (kidding: the above is why I have an accountant. Maybe I should have a conference person too Hmmmm startup idea…..)

    • Chris Brogan

      Totally. It happens like that all the time. 

      But that’s us. We can be ready. : ) 

  • Ryan Hanley

    Opening yourself up to the possibility of inspiration is step #1… 

    Thanks Chris.

    Ryan H.

  • Molly Gold

    Love this as a checklist not only for conferences but when we are working day in and day out at home ~ its a climb that only we can make. Thanks Chris!

  • PhD Thesis Writing Help

    We certainly miss many opportunities, because we don’t consider them as any opportunity and that’s what we regret in coming days. I think we should look for opportunities in our every activity.

  • thomsinger

    Chris-  I enjoyed bumping into you.  I had no goal, as I had nothing I need from you other than that brief conversation.

    Serendipity is a key part of an event, and sometimes you have an experience that does not need to have a business outcome of any kind.

    My panel today at 3:30 is SXSW Stories… where the audience is the panel.  I do not know if 3 people will  show up or 150.  But the whole idea is because we live in a society where stories are important… anyone can come share their story with the crowd.   The topics are panels, parties and people….. with people being the one that matters most.

    Hope you enjoyed our fine city!

  • Glen Stansberry

    Chris, it was great to meet you and hear your big plans for Gentlemint. We’ll need an address to send the T-shirt…

    Also, it took me about 10 minutes to realized that you likened me to Zack Galifanakas. Later that night a lady did the same, and I literally couldn’t convince her I wasn’t. I guess it could be worse ;)

  • Jane Boyd

    Love the pic of Melissa and AJ :) They define exactly what you are writing about in this post.

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  • Protea Digital

    This is a fantastic article!  I find networking to be one of the most difficult aspects of my job, because I usually feel slimy.  But these steps make it more of a relationship and less of a conquest.  It is more about honest and mutual benefits.  I feel like if I start following these steps, it would be really helpful.  Thank You!

  • paulcastain

    School was in session for me as I read this Chris . . . I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been guilty of this in my own way.


    Paul Castain

  • LynetteRadio

    Last year was my first year at SxSW and I hated it. This year I unexpectedly decided to attend a week before the event, and made a plan. Of course I looked like a drown rat because it was pouring rain for half the time I was there, and that actually threw my ‘game’ off a bit. I also ran into Gary and blew any chance of a decent conversation (I had just come in from an hour drive and wound up soaked on the walk to the party). I did manage to get my head back into the game and salvage the trip with a solid handful of ‘send me a contract’ & ‘I’m cutting a check now’ clients and a good number of hot leads.

    It is what you make it, but it’s also what you plan it to be.

    See you next year ;)

  • Helen de Coster

    Really brilliant post Chris.  I particularly like the point about remembering that it’s a two way experience. 
    I am often inspired by all the creative genius around me at these events that I feel a bit like a pressure cooker – and then I tend to talk too much – mind you, it could just be nervous energy :-) 
    Anyway, the point being that I sometimes forget the “serving/helping” bit. Thanks for the “gentle” reminder!

  • jacquichew

    I had my opportunity engine fail when I ran into you at the airport. I wasn’t prepared to run into you and would’ve liked to hear what was happening in your world by having you join us on the free bus ride to the convention center. Instead I wrongly described the opportunity leading you to think the ride would be a “drink fest” it wasn’t. And I don’t even drink.

    Fortunately, the rest of the conference went a little better and I had a variety of one on ones with startups (my passion) in which I was able to offer clear assistance.

  • Perth Australia property

    You really did a great job in this. Keep on posting.

  • Eric

    Networking is not bad if you approach it honestly and transparently. Be aware of the other person and read their body language. If they don’t want to move forward in a conversation, don’t force it – just like socializing normally. A lot of so-called internet marketing experts could learn more about face-to-face marketing.

  • Jessica

    I really appreciate the reminder that an event (or opportunity) is what you make of it. It can be easy to get caught up in frustrating frivolity, sometimes, but there’s often some great opportunities to meet people and connect when we just decide to focus on it. Thanks for this, Chris!

  • mikethemarketer

    Thanks for the post. I just went to an event this past Sunday and I left feeling as if I did not get the most from the actual people who were there to Network with, but I will make this promise to take more advantage of future opportunities.

  • Design Your Own T-shirt

    This is a well known route in business and also you must remember to get the best results make sure that there is a plan in place.

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  • cash advance

    Well, I think of ways of creating opportunity constantly as it is everywhere but then again it is not (in our eyes). Seeing it in other places makes us think of where we are missing it, When we look at someone else and transfer that to ourselves we are able to create opportunity. I know that I read a lot and write so much down that does transfer to what I do and what my clients do.

  • John Davy

    wise words for all to note. opportunity is always there if you look through the right eyes I guess. Collaboration normally makes life easier and speeds progress. Thanks

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  • Online Printing Services

    This is certainly a very helpful article. A lot of people just seems to be lost during conventions, parties, and other events when they could be doing something in order to open up new doors and possibilities for themselves. The opportunity engine is definitely an awesome idea.

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