To turn problems into opportunities we just need to change perspective. Saying it is easy, applying it is a bit more difficult. We are often so emotionally involved in the situation that it is difficult for us to assume the psychological distance necessary to realize the opportunities that are usually hidden behind each supposed obstacle. Trees often prevent us from seeing the forest, so we get caught up in the problematic situation.
What history teaches us about coping with problems
It all began in 1869, when Henry John Heinz, an American businessman of Bavarian origins, founded a packaged food company at the age of 25 that would later become present in more than 200 countries. However, his path to success was not always easy or linear.
In 1898, when things were going good, a rival company, the Campbell Preserve Company, launched its first brand of condensed soup. Campbell’s product was delicious and three times cheaper than Heinz’s, gaining a huge market share. While Campbell’s sales soared, Heinz’s were down.
Very soon Heinz discovered the secret recipe of his rival’s soup, but even by imitating it he could not succeed. His sales were not as expected. So Heinz and his son decided to change their perspective and approach the problem differently. If they couldn’t improve the soup, they would make a better container.
At that time cans were still sealed with lead solder, a highly toxic material that caused poisoning after regular consumption. In addition, the manufacturing process was slow and sterilization poor. Then they applied one of the most radical changes in the canning industry: the tapered or seam container, which not only provided greater food safety, but also allowed to increase the production.
The rest is history. In the following years Heinz would expand his business around the world, far surpassing Campbell.
How to transform problems into opportunities?
• Detect the problem
It may seem like a truism, but many times when we are faced with a problem, we are not clear about what it is. Problems can be confusing and complex, especially life problems. Defense mechanisms work against us and can hide the true source of the conflict from us, especially when we are emotionally involved.
In fact, Albert Einstein used to tell his students that if he had only one hour to solve the biggest problem in the world, he would spend 55 minutes defining it because once he knew the causes, it would take him 5 minutes to find a solution. So the first step in turning problems into opportunities is determining exactly what we need to fix. And for this we need to identify what bothers us.
• Develop a curious attitude
Curiosity has no biases. It does not judge or pigeonhole. It stays open. And that is essential to solve problems or detect opportunities. The history of Georges de Mestral shows us this. In 1941 this Swiss engineer went on an excursion with his dog to the Alps but when they got home they were covered in burrs.
At first, de Mestral was annoyed by the work involved in removing burrs from clothes, but then he was curious to know how these things stick so much. He examined them under the microscope and discovered small hooks that sank into the fabric. Thus the idea of Velcro was born!
How many people before Mestral cursed the burrs that stubbornly clung to their clothes? How many people dismissed them with disdain? When we curse, fear, or avoid problems and treat them as enemies, we blind ourselves and miss opportunities to grow. On the other hand, when we look at them with curiosity, a completely new perspective can open before us leading us to the solution.
• Change perspective
To transform problems into opportunities we need to change perspective. That means stopping seeing problems as mere obstacles and beginning to see them as opportunities for change. It’s tough, but it’s a change worth trying.
Changing the perspective does not mean being happy with what has happened to us, because it bothers us being taking out of our comfort zone, it is enough to not make a storm in a teacup. It means being aware that every situation always has two sides, even if at first we may not be able to see the more positive one.
It will help us to remember that we cannot choose our problems, but we have the power to decide how we will react to them. We must bear in mind that problems cease to be problems when we stop considering them as such. And that happens when we realize the opportunities or teachings that they hold.
• Overcome immobility by seeking solutions
Sometimes adversity takes us by surprise and kills our ability to react. After the first impact, we need to overcome that paralysis and get down to work, because a positive attitude and curiosity are not enough to turn problems into profitable opportunities.
In this phase it is important to try to open our mind and assume an emotional distance from the problem. We can ask ourselves, for example: how would a friend solve it? Or we can make brainstorming to find original and novel solutions. We just have to take note of everything that comes to mind, no matter how crazy it is.
Then, we must ensure that we implement the solution that seems most appropriate, always bearing in mind that there are no good or bad solutions. The right thing is what works for us and makes us feel better or helps us resolve the problem or the conflict. There are many ways to get from point A to point B. It does not have to be a straight line. We just have to get where we want to go.
It is important that we do not get stuck looking for the perfect solution because it is likely that we will never find it. We simply have to put it into practice and adjust it along the way. We need to think more in terms of progress, not perfection.