What transpired in college football on the last two weekends reinforces the importance of having a clear vision and being prepared. The lesson it teaches has a very strong business application.

One week ago Michigan defeated Michigan State in a dramatic last-play as the clock expired, taking advantage of a fumble on the part of Michigan’s kicker and returning it for a touchdown.

This weekend Georgia Tech defeated Florida State in a dramatic last-play as the clock expired, blocking a field goal and returning it for a touchdown.

These were not planned plays. They were the best (or worst, depending on which team you rooted for) outcomes possible. The winning teams did things right on one play, taking advantage of the opportunity. Football teams practice recovering fumbles and blocking field goals. That’s pretty basic. But once that has happened, what next? In one word: preparation. Instinct prevailed in both these situations. Even in the pressure of the situation players somehow knew what to do with the opportunity that presented itself. They did not take time to think. They acted.

Organizations must have a vision. Strategic plans follow from that vision; the challenge then becomes how to make it happen. Usually this includes following a well-orchestrated approach using available resources. But there are times when an opportunity unexpectedly presents itself. Knowing how to proceed in a timely manner is critical.

The vision provides the framework for decisions. Preparation provides the ability to move rapidly, sometimes altering courses and calling in new resources. Many products that are well known today are the result of someone taking advantage of something that was not planned (penicillin, the pacemaker, potato chips, microwave oven). The key: their inventors knew what to do with the opportunity.

Being ready includes preparation as well as willingness to take risk. In every individual’s professional life there are opportunities to make decisions and take actions that could have a substantial impact on their organization and on their career. Doing this in context of the organizations’ vision, as well as their own, enables them to evaluate the opportunity and act. Shifting market conditions and increasing pressures mean no organization or individual can be complacent. They must be prepared to take advantage of opportunities. They may even have to redefine visions.

Larry C. Shoemaker is President of Shoemaker & Associates/Cornerstone Atlanta. He specializes in retained search, leadership assessment and coaching. He is also President of Cornerstone International Group, a global retained search organization comprised of about 70 independently owned offices located around the globe. Headquarters are in Shanghai, China and Atlanta, GA. He holds an International Coach Foundation ACC Credential.