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Do You Have a Problem... Or An Opportunity?

© 2000 By Diana Pemberton-Sikes

In catching up with a friend recently, she relayed the story of her five year old, Abby, who had a very serious problem.

It seems that after receiving a copy of "The Wizard of Oz," Abby watched the tape several times and became convinced that the Wicked Witch would "get" her when she was alone in the bathroom.

To that end, she would have her mother drop everything and escort her to the little girls' room whenever nature called.

After complying a few times, my friend concluded that this would go on indefinitely unless she took some action. So the next time Abby asked for an escort, Melissa handed her a glass of water.

"I'll tell you what," she said. "If that witch shows up, throw this on her."

As a parent, I had to laugh.

As a business person, I had to think.


I once had a boss who hated the word "problem."

When he took over the department, he insisted that we strike that word from our everyday language because he firmly believed that a problem was really an opportunity in disguise. An opportunity to improve, to streamline, or to see what didn't work so you could chunk it and try again.

In fact, when anyone came to him with "an opportunity," he insisted that they have a solution thought about and ready to implement before they even approached him.

By doing this, he forced people to think for themselves, which not only empowered them, but freed him and his subordinate managers from getting involved in the day to day speed bumps that routinely surfaced.

It's the same tactic Melissa employed with Abby and a skill I've come to appreciate in the years since working for that man.

Problem solving takes thought, effort, and ingenuity. It's why people who excel it are often paid so well. It's easy to ignore, dismiss, or point blame when problems arise--anyonecan do that. But if you start to view problems as opportunities, you could find yourself on a fast track to success.

It was certainly true for these problem solvers:

  • Problem: Transporting food in the American frontier.

    Solution: Evaporate and condense milk for portage and long term storage -- Gail Borden, 1856 (Borden Foods).

  • Problem: Clothes get wet in the rain. 

    Solution: Combine chemicals to make cloth waterproof -- Charles Macintosh, 1823 (Macintosh Raincoats).

  • Problem: Can only render biased images through drawing, painting, or sculpting.

    Solution: Develop a way to capture a "true" image through photography -- L.J.M. Daguerre, c. 1826 (Daguerreotype).

  • Problem: No healthy, vegetarian alternatives for breakfast.

    Solution: Manipulate different kinds of grains to serve with milk as cereal -- W.K. Kellogg, c. 1900 (Kellogg's).

  • Problem: Can't run a computer unless you know how to write code.

    Solution: Develop an operating system and application software so that anyone can use a computer -- Bill Gates, c.1978 (Microsoft).

Not looking for anything as grand as these guys? No problem. Small opportunities abound.

If you already own a business, start with the number one complaint your customers give. Is it poor customer service? A bad product? Lousy hours? Find a way to turn that problem to your advantage. Add people or outsource services. Get a better product. Bring up a website for 24/7 shopping and information convenience. In short, SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

Perhaps you're trying to think of a business to start.

What are you good at? Golf, hopscotch, naming cats? Is there an inherent problem in this field of interest, like lack of time or space to play, or a place to sell your names? Invent a portable game or set up a "Name Your Cat" website. Again, think of a way to SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

If you're having the problem, chances are good that someone else is as well. Use that to your advantage.

Problem solving isn't always an easy job, but it pays well. If you're thinking of starting or expanding a business, this could be a good place to start to give you the competitive edge you seek.

So is it REALLY a problem? Or an opportunity? You decide.

"Opportunity always knocks at the least opportune time." - Anon.


Diana Pemberton-Sikes is the author of "10 Simple Ways To Boost Your Income," which features dozens of simple ways to start or expand a business using your EXISTING knowledge, skills, and talents. To learn more, visit her website at

Copyright © 2000 by Diana Pemberton-Sikes

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