Seeing problems as opportunities: the attitude that defines leadership


When engineers building a train tunnel beneath a Japanese mountain found they had a problem with leaking water they could simply have pumped it away. Instead they bottled it and sold it as mineral water. Within a few years they built a brand worth over $50m a year.

When Alexander Fleming discovered that one of his culture dishes had grown mould instead of bacteria he might simply have thrown it away or made sure it was cleaned properly next time. Instead he took a closer look and discovered penicillin, saving millions of lives.

When Georges de Mestral came home from a walk to find his dog and his clothes covered with burrs he didn’t just remove them: he looked closely at how they worked and then invented velcro.

And when Travis Kalanick and a friend couldn’t get a cab in Paris one day they didn’t just complain about it, they decided to found Uber. The rest, as we know, is history.

We’ve all faced situations that didn’t turn out the way we wanted. But not all of us have then done what these people did.

These four examples may seem very different but they all share one thing in common: in all of them, the ability to turn a problem in the outer world into an opportunity came from a difference in the inner attitudes of the people facing these situations. You might even say that it is this attitude, to look for and find the opportunities in an apparently ‘problem’ situation, is the attitude that defines leadership.

Chapter 3 of Inner Leadership describes the benefits that come simply by looking for opportunities (whether or not we find them). It also describes how to find the ten types of opportunity that exist in any ‘problem’ situation, including the one you face now.

Adapted from Inner Leadership.

Photo by gfpeck via

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