How to Turn a Problem Into an Opportunity

Einstein certainly got it right when he said that “In the middle of a problem lies opportunity” as some of the best opportunities often originate from problems. On top of this, the ability to not solely solve a problem but to turn that problem into an opportunity is a sign of real leadership. Imagine the growth that could occur if you strategically focused on reversing value – that is taking the things that diminish value in your business and turning them into things that add value.

Problems usually come with plenty of potential energy. The key to turning problems into solutions is to redirect that energy away from exerting a negative influence and toward a more positive direction. Problems can turn into opportunities depending on the way you approach them. You can allow them to drain you or to energize you. Either way, the result will be dramatic.

Companies Which Leveraged Problems

In the 1970s, sharply rising oil prices and increased environmental concerns led to a demand for automobiles with reduced emissions and increased mileage efficiency. This was considered a major problem by automobile manufacturers worldwide, but Honda immediately came up with a solution to fill the gap. The company engineered and built the world’s first pollution efficient engine, the CVCC, which launched Honda into a dominant position in to automobile industry.

Japan Railways East, one of the world’s largest rail carriers undertook the construction of a new high-speed railway line running north of Tokyo. This involved drilling a long tunnel under a huge mountain, Mount Tanigawa. Once the tunnel was constructed the company encountered problems with water seepage. Engineers designed systems to drain off the water which was seeping through the mountain from the melting snows on its peak.

A maintenance worker came up with a radical idea: to bottle the water and sell it, since the water was of great purity and taste. His idea was implemented and JR East entered the beverage industry with the Oshimizu brand of bottled mineral water. It was marketed as a premium product derived from the pure snows of Mt. Tanigawa. The company also exploited its retail coverage by placing vending machines on over 1,000 station platforms. The product line was extended with fruit juices and iced tea. By the mid 1990s sales of the Oshimizu brands were over $50 million a year.

8 Levels of Problem Solving

Michael Skok, General partner of North Bridge Venture Partners argues that it is not easy to create a culture that sees opportunities instead of problems. As such, he provides a simple motivational framework to focus people on assessing their own problem-solving abilities. It is recommended to begin to reward them as you see their problem-solving abilities develop.

Problem Solving Framework:

Level 0 – Can’t see the problem.

Level 1 – See the problem and raise it.

Level 2 - See the problem and define it clearly (a problem well defined is a problem half solved)

Level 3 – See the problem, define it clearly and identify the root cause.

Level 4 - Plan ahead to avoid the problem or derivative problems re-occurring (prevention is better than a cure)

Level 5 – Find a practical and viable solution to the problem.

Level 6 – Find a breakthrough solution to the problem (for example one that saves more than it costs, or opens the way to other breakthroughs)

Level 7 – Take initiative to implement the solution or develop the breakthrough.

Level 8 - Look beyond problem prevention – create new opportunities from continuous improvement …(Think 3M)

Simple Tips For Developing a Problem-Solving Culture in Your Company

Here are a few tips that will help you to foster a problem-solving culture in your business.

-  Be patient with problem solvers who make mistakes and ask yourself – could you have done a better job by setting the context, providing the support, proper resources or mentoring?

-  Provide resources and opportunities for people to stretch their talents, shining a light on creative solutions.

-  Even if you have to have only one person accountable for something, make it everyone’s responsibility to solve problems at every level in the organization.

-  Encourage self-awareness and motivate people to ask for help to develop their weaknesses and enhance their strengths. Offer training and development for those who want to reach higher

On the whole, problems can open new worlds. They can be a gold mine for reassessing the current way companies are doing business, identifying new strengths, innovating and expanding. To what extent do you view problems as opportunities? Please comment.