Opportunism – a positive or negative connotation?

I was taken aback at a TEDx Talks video by Irish visual artist Kevi  Abosch who talked about opportunism in a definite beneficial and righteous manner. It baffled me to no end to think of this trait as virtuous or humane for I looked at it from a prism that signified lack of trust or credibility. Opportunism bespoke unethical practice and I often used the word with utter disdain to describe a person who had used somebody or something to his advantage with scant regard for its consequences on others. The word tagged along more so when I saw the millennials adopting it rampantly to their obvious advantage. This apparently did not go down well and my dinner table conversations on this with family had the usual two versus two of different generations sparring at each other. And so, these parleys never came to closure.

It is paradoxical when I use this term time and again either to portray someone in a bad light or while teaching entrepreneurship to my students where I encourage them to keep their eyes and ears sharp for business opportunism, replete with terms such as opportunist and opportunistic and grab them with both hands, exploitative and self- centric on the one hand and extremely intellectual and rational on the other.

It is difficult to make a transformation from an altruistic temperament to meanness at least from the dimension of social opportunism where the guiding principle is anything but uberimae fidei! Opportunism does take different avatars of economic – where it becomes an integral part of capitalism, legal – manipulative twisting and contorting facts to favour a positive judgement, political – ideology and dogmas are thrown out of the window and a new baptism emerges as common minimum programme, it does make strange bedfellows, business – never considered derogatory often as a guile strategy to win over strategic partners, deals, buyers,  social – which cascades and manifests in personal and professional lives, sexual – the immoral act of exploitation, biological – an intriguing spin off seen in evolution and adaptation, and even spiritual – misusing religion, faith to one’s ominous advantage. John Von Neumann’s Game theory probably stemmed from Opportunistic tendencies where the gains and losses are offset by others, the payoffs for a strategy depending on counter strategies.

The critic in me is slowly learning to accept as I see few companies of the world growing in size and stature with a Pareto like domination of holding the bulk of businesses, 20% of them holding 80% of the revenues. Begetting newer business models which make them unique and the best, they become indispensable and monopolistic in nature cutting out competition and inevitably becoming opportunistic both actively and passively. The covid pandemic has further dealt a body blow to my thinking as we have witnessed many companies biting the dust or going bust while a few have emerged victorious taking the bull by the opportunism horns!

So is this the new normal, a new form of leadership? What is your take – is opportunism a quiet campaign and flag it off to seize the opportunities that come one’s way or is it outright unethical and give a bad rap?

2 thoughts on “Opportunism – a positive or negative connotation?

  1. Well, this is the generation gap that I referred to in the post and the business today is far from grabbing just the opportunity, take the case of Google where the Justice Department has sued the company for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising. They have alleged that Google uses billions of dollars collected from advertisers to pay phone manufacturers to ensure Google is the default search engine on browsers! I am great admirer of the company but Isn’t that opportunism and this is not just a one off case, this is indeed the new normal and definitely with a positive connotation!

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