Why You Should Always Have Problems

Problems are good.

I’m always running into problems in my business. Our product needs a design tweak, a bookkeeping process has a hiccup, the latest insurance renewal changed the available options – there is always something, which also means there is always room for improvement.

That’s the opportunity!  It gives us a chance to review what we have and ask ourselves what we can do about it.

The Gift of ProblemsPulling hair out

In 1999, I was fortunate to sell my first company, GovCon. I wanted to start another company, but I didn’t know what to build. So, my partner and I looked at the problems we faced at GovCon. The biggest one was doing our email newsletter. Nobody at the time offered a simple email newsletter solution for small companies. We figured many companies had the same issue so we created MailerMailer, an email marketing service just for small businesses. The New York Times included our story in a piece they did on making mistakes.

MailerMailer is now a thriving business and we are about to launch a new product based on a problem that many companies face when doing their newsletter: writing the content. Our new tool, Presstacular, includes a library of click-and-use articles so our clients can just pick the articles they like, edit them if they have time and they’re done. It makes creating a newsletter very easy. We saw the opportunity in the problem.

Problems are Opportunities in Disguise

Several years ago, my company started a 401(k) retirement plan. We wanted to make sure all of our staff had something for retirement so we set up an automatic contribution from the company for everyone, regardless of whether our staff contributed to their own accounts.

A year later, the company that set up our plan had some staff changes and our rep was assigned to a new region. We were assigned a “Vice President” level person who never followed up with phone calls or took the time to make sure we were taken care of. After a year of non-responsiveness, we were ready for a change. But 401(k) stuff is, at least to us, pretty boring. Changing who manages the plan would mean more research, more meetings… ugh, just not my thing. So, we kept it as is.

Six months later, I received a direct mail letter from a broker who worked at a very large investment bank. He said that he could take over the plan and provide the kind of service we were looking for and he described in one simple page how easy it would be for us to do. His timing worked out well for us – and for him. We had a problem and he had a solution. We switched to his company and I am very glad we did. We now get to experience the high level of service we were missing all these years. Our issue was fixed, our process improved and our staff significantly happier – all because we had a problem.

Take Advantage of Your Problems

If you had no problems, you wouldn’t know what to fix. Problems help us take a fresh look at a situation and see what can be done to make things better. Problems shed light on things that we can improve. Ask yourself questions regularly so you can identify problems that you can do something about.

And the next time you face a problem, look at it a different way: it’s an opportunity!

Get Out of Your Own Way

A major key to success is knowing when an opportunity exists. Many times, it is right in front of you. You just have to notice it is there.

The reason we often overlook opportunities is that we instinctively make a decision about something based on self-imposed limits. We have already decided that there is a certain way to cut an apple. We have already decided whether four activities on a weekend is too much, just right, or too little.  We have already decided how much we should get paid (in other words, how much we are worth).

The truth is that there are no real limits. It’s all in our head. We have to get out of our own way.

Writer Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, shared a story about women entrepreneurs all over the world who are breaking out of these preconceived molds and helping others in their community to prosper, too. My favorite line in her speech: never import other people’s limitations. Listen to her inspiring words in this TED video:

[ted id=1339]

The Definition of Luck

An old friend and I were chatting about luck. He isn’t a believer in luck so I posed this formula which I use to define luck:

Luck = Preparation + Opportunity

The catch is that we often overlook opportunity because of preconceived notions. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Here are some famous missed opportunities:

  • Decca Recording Company passed on the Beatles, saying “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
  • Digital Equipment Corporation Chairman Ken Olson in 1977, just before the PC revolution said “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
  • Xerox invented the graphical user interface with mouse, not Apple. Xerox just didn’t know what to do with it since the PC market didn’t exist. Apple saw it and ran with the idea.
  • Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPod either. Engineer Tony Fadell couldn’t get Real Networks and Philips (Fadell’s employer) to bite on the idea for a new kind of music player. Jobs did.
  • One of my favorites: 1876 – Chief Engineer of the British Post Office, Sir William Preece, said “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”

Thomas Edison once said that opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. The fact is that opportunity is everywhere. You only have to look at every situation a little differently – without preconceived notions.