I am not big on clichs such as "every time God closes a door, he opens a window."

But I do think there is one overused phrase that does has merit. That phrase: There are no such things as problems, just opportunities."

Indeed I think it is actually an apt description of the business environment we now find ourselves in.

The world, which has always been unpredictable, is becoming increasingly more so. That means your odds of moving smoothly from A to B are going to steadily decrease over time, creating more and more situations that you simply could not anticipate. That means more problems--but more opportunities, if you view those challenges in a different way.

The key is to focus on your goal and not on the plan that you initially drew up to get there.

With this approach, your objective doesn't change, but you accept the fact that how you may get there might. For anyone who has put together a five-year plan or even an annual budget, this is going to require thinking differently, something which is never a walk in the park. But it can be done.

To see how we need to begin by taking a step back.

In the world we grew up in, we were taught either to avoid the unexpected, or to overcome it. It was all about efficiency. Optimizing. Achieving the objective quickly with as few deviations as possible. That's understandable. Before beginning anything new we usually spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is going to happen (predicting) and once we get underway it is all about making that prediction a reality.

So, not surprisingly, people get upset when something unexpected appears in their path and their reaction is the deviation from the plan needs to be eliminated or overcome ASAP.

However, in today's world, it is all about exploiting the contingencies and leveraging the uncertainty by treating unexpected events as an opportunity to exercise control over the emerging situation. (Don't believe me? Think of the last time you drew up a plan to accomplish something and it went off without a hitch.)

Those who are successful in starting companies, or creating anything new for that matter, learn not only to work with the surprise factor, but also to take advantage of it.

In most contingency plans, surprises are bad; the "what if?" scenarios are usually worst-case ones. But people who accept the world is much more complex today do not tie themselves to any theorized or preconceived market, strategic universe, or fixed path for making their idea a reality. For them, problems are a potential resource, as opposed to a disadvantage. They very often do something with the things that surprise them, treating those surprises as a potential asset.

How do you get creative with a surprise? Well, if the surprise is a good one, you take full advantage of it. For example, you introduce a new product or service and you are overwhelmed by demand. Great. The logical thing to do is to ramp up production and figure out how to move into adjacent markets.

If that surprise was a negative one--i.e., your actions did not go as you thought they would; you encountered a problem or even a setback--it is then time to figure out a way of using that negative to your advantage. Problems and even setbacks are resources to be employed to your advantage.

Running headlong into a problem and then solving it can give you a barrier to competition, or at least a remarkable head start in the marketplace. Why? Because you acted, and the competition didn't. As a result, you know something they don't.

That negative surprise you encounter can ultimately become a barrier to competition, if you treat it as an asset.

We began by talking about clichs. Let's end the same way. The takeaway from this post is clear. If you come across lemons--otherwise known as business problems/obstacles--do indeed make lemonade.

Try this approach next time you encounter something unexpected. Despite how unpleasant it seems, say, "This is really good news," and then try to make it so.

The big idea here is you want to develop the ability to turn the unexpected into the profitable. That means your default position should be that there is never a problem without a potential profitable/pleasant solution lurking somewhere. The understanding that a) not all surprises are bad, and b) surprises, whether good or bad, can be used to create something new, is a central to the way we need to think going forward.

The thing is to do something positive with those surprises

Published on: Mar 15, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.