When we observe a system we have a chance to learn what the underlying principles of that system are. The principles, of course, are much more important to understand than any particular manifestation of them. An actual event, or series of events, is just a manifestation of the underlying principles. If we imagine that the event is important, rather than the principles which dictated it, we will never be better than one step behind. The principles allow us to predict what will happen based on what is happening and what has happened; to project into the future.
Once we can predict what will happen with better than 50% accuracy it becomes a useful tool. What we do with that tool is stick it into our imagination, along with everything we know about the past and present, and churn the whole thing up for a while.
I can't take credit for this particular idea. But Blenderhead can.
If done properly, what will pop out are plausible predictions of future events. We can then test the plausibility of these predictions by waiting to see if they actually happen. When they happen as we predicted, we win a Nobel Prize. When things do not go the way we predicted, we reevaluate the ingredients in the mind-blender and then set it to frappe. Eventually we will get an accurate enough understanding of the principles, and the salient aspects of the past and present, that our predictions will be relatively reliable.
AFTER that, we are ready for opportunity recognition. The potential to recognize opportunities only emerges when we start to think about the way things could work out if a change was made at the correct time or place. It is the next step beyond simply predicting the way things will work out if everything continues as it has. First we have to predict what would be useful in a situation that doesn't exist yet, and then we have to file that prediction away.
Opportunity recognition finally occurs when we run across a situation that closely conforms to those predictions we made. If we thought previously that a certain thing would be possible if this, that and the-other-thing were present, and then we see something that offers this, that and the-other-thing, we can recognize it as a chance to make something better happen. However, it requires a lot of forethought. That is the key. Effort has to be put into figuring out what would be useful, but that first requires that we figure out what will happen, and to do that we first have to figure out the principles that control the situation.