There's only one simple question to ask, in order to turn a problem into an opportunity. And believe it or not is was contained within a long forgotten film starring John Belushi of all people.

The movie Continental Divide basically disappeared without a trace when it came out some 30 years ago, and that's too bad.

True, it didn't have much of a plot. As IMDB puts it: "A hard-nosed Chicago journalist has an unlikely love affair with an eagle researcher." And it was hard to see Belushi as a true leading man (as he was supposed to be here.)

Still, the movie had two things going for it.

1. A clever script by Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark; The Big Chill) and

2. A line that you should always ask yourself when you are confronted with the unexpected.

Blair Brown, the aforementioned eagle researcher, takes Belushi into the wild and on his first glimpse of nature in all its glory he asks, "am I pleased or frightened?"

It is the exactly the same question you need to ask when confronted with what most people would describe as a problem.

Are you pleased or are you frightened?

Now, let's be clear. Some problems are exactly that. The computer crashes. You are stuck in traffic. You develop a 103 degree fever before the big presentation. Those are problems and there very little you can do to turn them to your advantage.

But many of the problems you are confronted with should leave you pleased.

For example, you thought you were onto a big idea. You would create an app that would allow people to search for types of restaurants (Italian) at specific price points ($50 a head) and automatically make the reservation for you and put it in your Microsoft Outlook.

However, when you asked a representative sample of your potential audience about it, they told you there was no reason to develop the software. They were happy with the available options like Open Table.

So, why is something like this good news?

There are three reasons.

  • You learned something. This is no small thing the more knowledge you have the insights you can have.
  • You learned this ahead of the competition, people who are actually developing "better" versions of Open Table and the like and who are going to discover there is no market (after they have spent tens of thousands of dollars--or more.)
  • The knowledge could take you in another reaction

For example, when you were talking to the potential customers who eventually shot down your idea you kept hearing variations on a theme.

Once they scored the reservation, many of them thought of the reservation as an asset and like all assets they wondered if they could monetize it.

"Wouldn't it be great if I could sell my reservation to someone who really wanted it? The restaurant is "hot" and people are waiting for months to get in and there has to be a market for people who want to jump the que."

And similarly, people told you, "you know, I would pay to get into my favorite place at the last minute."

All of a sudden, you are testing the idea of playing restaurant matchmaker.

The point is you could give up, when confronted with a problem. Or you could ask yourself, what can I do with this in order to turn it into an asset.

And that, with a tip of the cap to Mr. Belushi, is how to turn a problem into an opportunity.