Build your skills with an opportunity matrix

Build your skills with an opportunity matrix
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Are you looking to grow this year? Not just build your business but develop your skillset? Wanting change and deciding to change are the easy parts. Figuring out how to do it is another thing. Frameworks are a good place to start.

The Ansoff matrix* is typically used to discuss growth strategies for companies in the context of products and markets, but it’s also a good way for someone looking to develop their skills and position to start to conceptualize and organize the possibilities. The product is your skillset, and the market is the market for them. Most, if not all, of us have heard of the importance of continual innovation, and that’s as important for individuals as it is for businesses. When facing the unknown and a seemingly infinite array of possibilities, however, deciding where to grow your skills can be difficult. The 2×2 Ansoff matrix for businesses shows four types of opportunities for growth:

  • Existing product, existing market
  • Existing product, new market
  • New product, existing market
  • New product, new market


Each opportunity has a different growth strategy: market penetration, product development, market development, and product and market diversification. Many of us are hired for one set of reasons and skills, need another set to do our jobs well, and then need even different skills to move on to other positions in our careers. As author Paul B. Brown writes in Forbes, “To borrow from Marshall Goldsmith’s great book, what got you here—to the success and accomplishments you have achieved up until now—is not going to get you there. (Where you want to go in the future.)”

Take the Rob Parson case as an example. Parsons was hired because he was relentless and got results. He continued being that person after he was hired, but it didn’t work out well. His abrasive nature and tunnel vision for results hurt his relationships and political standing within the organization, and he didn’t seem to understand – regardless of what promises were made to him when he was hired – that he needed to develop other skills to be hired for the next step up, in his case the Director position.

Now, most, if not all, of us have been like Parson at some point. Self-awareness and self-reflection are the first steps towards making sure we avoid repeating that mistake. Framing our current position and opportunities for growth in terms of our skills can be very helpful in doing that. Take a look at the Ansoff matrix again. How would you define getting better at your current job? Look at “existing product” (in this case defined as skill), “existing market.” The opportunities for growth here are mostly optimizing what you’re there to do. Don’t reinvent the wheel here; just become better at doing what you do. This is your chance to become an expert or specialist in your area. In Parson’s case, that would mean selling more within his given market. If you look at the matrix, that’s mostly where Parson resided when he worked at Morgan Stanley.

Next, look at “new product, existing market.” Think of this as learning new skills for your current job. In Parson’s case, that might have been learning how to work with others or how to navigate the political landscape and culture at Morgan Stanley. Like the original Ansoff matrix was designed to show, this describes another specific kind of growth opportunity for Parson.

Next, go to existing product, new market. This could mean finding opportunities to use your current skills in another area of the business, or it could mean making use of your skills in another company or industry altogether. Finally, look at new product, new market. This could mean developing the new skills needed to rise to that Director position, in Parson’s case; developing a new skill that takes you to a different business unit and function in the same company; or developing skills in an entirely different industry.

Figuring out which one of these is for you is up to you, chance, and timing. Only you know what you want, but no matter how much we plan to work towards what we want, sometimes the opportunities we are presented with are unexpected. That’s why it’s so important to be ready when those opportunities arise. I believe there’s truth to the idea, attributed to Seneca, that “[luck] is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  The Ansoff matrix can help you prepare.

What do you think and feel when you look at each of the parts of the matrix? That should give you a clue as to where you really want to go – with your skills, job, or career. In this respect the matrix can help you frame your current position and skills, become aware of what you want out of them, and help you define and decide where and how you want to grow. If you’re someone looking for continual growth, this is a great tool to start thinking about your growth opportunities. Did you grow a new skill in your existing market last year? When you draw your matrix this year, that skill will now sit in the existing skill, existing market box. The matrix can be a tool you return to as you work on your continual growth. The very nature of it lends itself well to processes like this, which are cyclical.

In a previous post, I discussed the value of staying relevant. Knowing that is one thing. Deciding how you are going to go about making that happen in your career is more difficult to approach, as some people feel like they’re starting with a blank slate. Add a desire to rise as a leader, innovate, and what you should do practically speaking becomes murkier. But you’re not starting with a blank slate. Defining and organizing your thoughts out of seemingly infinite possibilities is difficult, but that’s why using a framework like this is a great way to begin thinking about what you have, what you want, and how you can get what and where you want. It can help make you look more closely at what skills you bring to your job and career and facilitate organizing your thoughts and how you might approach growing your skillset.


*For those looking for a less binary approach to the Ansoff matrix, Harvard Business Review’s Innovation Ambition Matrix is an option. It is an offshoot of the Ansoff model.

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