Flip A Challenge To An Opportunity

Four Questions You Can Ask To Re-Frame Difficulties.

­­­Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Business is hard sometimes. Life is hard sometimes. Even so, the “best of the best” seem to find ways to turn those hardships into opportunities. Isn’t that hard too? Not necessarily. Often, we limit our own capabilities simply by focusing on the problem.

My wife and I each brought 3 children into our marriage (that’s 6 kids between us). There are “parenting tracks” that are on replay loops in our household on a weekly basis. For example, “Doing a chore means doing ALL of the steps.” This usually is uttered when the dish soap is left on the counter after the dishes are washed and put away. “It’s OK to get stuck, but don’t stay stuck.” In other words, everyone runs into problems, and it’s normal to get “stuck” in that mud. You do not get to stay there though. Find a solution to the problem. Focus on solutions, not the problem.

Obviously, when facing a challenge, you can simply ask, “What solutions can I find?” And you should absolutely do so, but if you cannot see any palatable solutions it is easy to revert to being stuck in the mud. To dig a little deeper, the first question you should ask is this:

“What can I learn from this situation that will help me in the future?”

This question does several important things for your mindset. Not only is it introspective (getting you to focus inward on self-improvement instead of outward on the situation), but it is also positive. Learning, knowledge, and information are keys to growth. In addition, asking this question sets your mind on the future, a time when you have moved beyond this problem.

Years ago, I bought a coffee truck (a food truck as a mobile coffee shop). I intended to build a route in my city where I would have daily stops and build clientele through consistency. To start, I kept my day job and set up each morning in a parking lot where busses shuttled commuters from where I live into downtown Chicago. Every weekday, 200-300 people got on these busses between 6:30am and 8am. For six weeks, I was out there, ready to go, with my coffee-shop-on -wheels. And after six weeks, I was selling 1 or 2 drinks per morning… on a good day. What did I learn from this? I learned that the business model I thought would be so successful, was not. That is really obvious, but it helped me move into the future since I never have to look back and wonder if it would have worked. I took a risk; it did not work; now I know.

The next re-framing question you should ask is,

“What are the problems I have avoided?”

There are pros and cons to every situation. So, what are the cons to the trajectory that was uninterrupted by this situation? More simply, what “bad” would have continued without this? A decade ago I was working for a bank. One day, my boss asked me into my office where he proceeded to tell me they were letting me go. He escorted me out the door and told me they would box my things and I could pick them up next week. I was frustrated, embarrassed, and I got to go home to tell my wife at the time that I was unemployed. The problems I avoided, howerver, were:
I would still have had to work every other Saturday (This was a requirement of my position. I never said these had to be huge problems.)

My role was poorly defined with improper expectations (I was the highest-ranking bank officer of the branch, but I had no authority over the staff.)
My sales goals were set by others without my input, and they were unattainable (I did the math. It was absurd.)
By losing this job, I no longer had those problems. I went on to another position making more money and got a company car (which allowed me to buy a motorcycle).

The first 2 questions are really about getting your head right. You need to be in the right frame of mind in order to focus effectively on solutions, and therein lies the intent behind the final 2 questions.

What are the masses doing and not doing?

You are not alone in whatever situation you are facing. There is nothing new under the sun. Take a look at what others typically do in your situation and look for answers there. More importantly, however, look at the opposite of what others are doing or directions they are not going. Often the breakthrough solutions are found where the masses are not. So, look to the opposite direction or “road less traveled” for potential solutions.

During the pandemic, when everything was shut down and the events industry was suffering incredibly, my wife decided to buck the trend. While other businesses were going to online-only models or meeting clients in their homes, she opened a brick & mortar showroom and invited other events-industry vendors to join her new, membership-based, vendor collective, called Orchestrated Events. One of the benefits was a professional, pretty, consultation space for event vendors to meet with clients that was NOT in their homes. It was very successful and she is still operating that model and looking to expand.


How did “Future You” solve this?

This might seem silly at first, but it can be a powerful exercise. If nothing else, it will get your subconsious mind working on your behalf. When you ask this question, close your eyes and imagine a conversation with Future You, the “you” on the other side of your struggle. And ask him/her how he/she did it? You might be surprised that you get a clear answer (meaning you knew the solution all along), or you can follow-up by asking for some advice. Future You (the you who survived this challenge and is now thriving despite OR because of it) will probably tell you to keep going, stay strong, focus on the fundamentals, etc. It’s always helpful to hear from people how they got through a similar situation, and there is no reason that cannot be Future You.

In order to find useful answers, you have to start with the right questions. These will get you thinking and moving in the right direction to flip your challenge to an opportunity.