One of the key skills of entrepreneurship is that of spotting opportunities, which are usually disguised as problems that most people overlook.
As Thomas Edison said: “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Here’s a definition of what opportunity means: “It’s a chance to make a difference for yourself and/or for someone else.”
We can change something – usually for the better.
Entrepreneurs see a need in the market and do everything they can to make a business option come about even if they don’t have the resources on hand at that moment. To them, not pursuing a new opportunity is the risk.
As we move into 2017, I don’t want to minimise the challenges of last year, or how some of these are still unresolved. I do, however, hold to looking afresh at this new year for new opportunities. Don’t become so preoccupied with yesterday’s challenges that you miss today’s opportunities. So how can you better see opportunities? How can you increase the amount of opportunities you see? To strengthen your ability to recognise opportunities to produce a new product or start a viable business, consider these suggestions:
Use a telescope and look at national challenges
The National Planning Commission was formed in April 2010, under the chairmanship of Trevor Manuel. Their first report focused on the social, political and economic challenges facing the country. They have come up with viable recommendations, and it is hoped that its implementation will adequately and realistically address these challenges.
According to the commission there are nine key social, political and economic challenges facing South Africa:
Too few South Africans are employed.
The quality of education for poor black South Africans is substandard.
Poorly located and inadequate infrastructure limits social inclusion and faster economic growth.
South Africa’s growth path is highly resource-intensive and hence unsustainable.
Spatial challenges (rural vs urban development) continue to marginalise the poor.
The ailing public health system confronts a massive disease burden.
The performance of the public service is uneven.
Corruption undermines state legitimacy and service delivery.
South Africa remains a divided society.
While these are serious challenges and problems facing our country, they simultaneously represent very real opportunities for the budding entrepreneur who looks “through the telescope”.
For example, the Western Cape is in the grip of one of the worst droughts ever, and Level 3 water restrictions are in place. This challenge impacts every person in the province and so innovative solutions have the possibility of impacting the quality of life of over four million people.
Can you think of an innovation that could impact our water supply?
Use a microscope and look at innovating existing products
Using the water challenge mentioned above, what about inventing a device to improve the lives of those living in rural situations who have to walk distances to collect water?
Two out of every five people in Africa have no nearby water facilities and are forced to walk long distances to reach water sources. Traditional methods of balancing heavy loads of water on the head limit the amount people can carry, and cause long-term spinal injuries. Women and children usually carry out these time-consuming tasks, missing out on educational and economic opportunities.
A company has come forward with a device called the Hippo water roller. This is a drum that can be rolled on the ground, making it easier for those without access to taps to haul larger amounts of water faster. It can be filled with water which is then pushed or pulled using a handle. The weight of the water is spread evenly so a full drum carries almost five times more than traditional containers, but weighs in at half the usual 20kg, allowing it to be transported faster.
Read books, articles and papers on the subject
Often, searching the archives of online journals, magazines, and newsletters can yield some helpful information. Also consider reading books written by or about venture capitalists. Their success hinges on their ability to identify and exploit promising business ideas. Take a self-paced online course on the subject.
A super method of increasing your ability to see opportunity is to allow yourself to “imagine” opportunities that present themselves in a newspaper.
Imagine there are no limits to finances. Imagine that you can use adverts, articles, problems and photos to develop your opportunities. The big idea would be to generate as many opportunities as possible.
Attend a workshop, training session or course on the subject
Your employer may offer some of these, or may be willing to fund your tuition if you take such a course. Your local adult education programmes may also offer such courses and workshops. Consider attending an idea generation course by Neil Heinrichsen. See www.koistrategy.com and also consider False Bay College’s Centre For Entrepreneurship (CFE) events and competitions.
Gain a wide variety of experiences
The more diverse your life experiences, the more you’ll be able to see patterns and parallels across seemingly unrelated fields. These patterns and parallels enable you to identify and seize promising opportunities. For example, my wife is the gardener in the home, but because of water restrictions, I have become the main “waterer” of the garden. I use the water from our bath.
This has resulted in my daily seeing changes in the garden, and starting to notice patterns and changes which I can apply elsewhere.
View problems through a new lens
Many problems can be turned into opportunities. For example, the swimming pool vacuum cleaner was invented by Ferdinand Chauvier from Springs. Chauvier tried to figure out a way to take the hassle out of pool cleaning. The result? The Kreepy Krauly, which has saved loads of time and proven itself worldwide.
Steve Reid is the manager of the CFE. His column appears monthly. Email Steve.Reid@falsebay.org.za or visit www.falsebayincubate.co.za for more about the Centre For Entrepreneurship.