From problem to opportunity – Part 2: use the problem to your advantage

Learn to deal with what you can’t change

Some setbacks are inescapable. As I wrote in my previous article, sometimes it’s best to accept a difficult situation. However, this is not the same as giving up! Often, a terrible situation brings unexpected opportunities. The trick is to recognise and utilise these opportunities. In this article, I’ll share one of the ways to deal with inevitable problems.

Look for ways to use the problem to your advantage

Step 1. List the hard facts
A problem is always emotional. All the more reason to look at the facts. What’s really going on? What are the neutral facts? By reducing your problem to the core, your situation becomes clear and manageable.

Step 2. Look for advantages
Dutch football legend Johan Cruijff once said: “Every setback has its advantage.” By focussing on the upsides of your situation, you set yourself up to discover new possibilities. Ask yourself: What is the difference between the ‘normal’ situation and the current (problem) situation? What could be the benefits? Who would benefit from this? In which situations would this be an advantage?

Step 3. Come up with ways to utilise the benefits
Once you see a problem-situation as a given, you can look for ways to benefit from it. Use the problem as fertile ground to build on. Ask yourself: How can I use this situation to my advantage? How can this situation help me solve another problem? How could this put me in a unique position? What does this bring me, that I didn’t have before? What do I have now, that others lack? 

Here are some examples of companies, organisations and individuals who took a negative or disadvantageous situation and turned it into something beautiful.

View ‘failures’ as results (serendipity)

  • Christopher Columbus failed in finding a shorter route to the Indies. He did, however, discover America.
  • 3M accidentally developed a very weak type of glue. Eventually, Post-it notes proved to be a brilliant application of the slightly sticky substance.
  • When Pfizer experimented with a drug to dilate the heart’s blood vessels (to treat cardiovascular disease), results did not seem promising. The drug did, however, work brilliantly (and unexpectedly) in another organ of the body. Viagra has since been earning the company billions.

Use the disadvantage to your advantage

  • Nerdalize uses excess server heat to heat homes.
  • For years, the American car rental company Avis advertised with the message that they were NOT number one… and therefore tried harder than their competitor to please their customers.
  • American singer Madilyn Bailey turned hateful comments into a new song (see the video below).

Consider waste a resource

  • Rotterzwam uses discarded coffee grounds to grow mushrooms. They turn these mushrooms into tasty vegetarian snacks.
  • Studio Roosegaarde filters smog from the air and turns the CO2 into diamond rings.
  • Gumshoe uses discarded chewing gum to make shoes (see video below)

Turn your weakness into a strength

  • Her skin disease Vitiligo makes Canadian model Winnie Harlow even more striking.
  • The Dutch company Specialisterren hires people with autism. Their ‘limitation’ makes them experts in uncovering software bugs.
  • Comedian Josh Sundquist has only one leg and uses this unique feature to come up with the most original Halloween costumes. (see video below).


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