Japan Railways East is one of the world’s largest rail carriers. During the 1980s they constructed a new high-speed railway line running north of Tokyo. This involved drilling a long tunnel under a huge mountain, Mount Tanigawa. Once the tunnel was constructed the company encountered problems with water seepage. Engineers designed systems to drain off the water which was seeping through the mountain from the melting snows on its peak.

Then a maintenance worker suggested something radical: why not bottle the water and sell it? The water was of great purity and taste. His idea was implemented and JR East entered the beverage business with a bottled mineral water. It was promoted under the name Oshimizu as a premium product derived from the pure snows of Mt. Tanigawa. Furthermore the company exploited its retail coverage by placing vending machines on over 1,000 station platforms. The product line was extended with fruit juices and iced tea. By the mid 1990s sales of the Oshimizu brands were over $50 million a year.

Kalanick
Travis Kalanick

Travis Kalanick attended a conference in Paris in 2008.  He was frustrated that there were no taxis to take him to his destination.  Most people would curse their luck and try to get on the Metro but the problem got Kalanick thinking.  Why do we have to use taxis when there is excess capacity in so many cars?  He went on to found Uber, the transportation network company which now operates in 57 countries around the world.

During the Californian gold rush a young entrepreneur went to California with the idea of selling tents to the miners. He thought there would be good market for tents from the thousands of people who flocked to dig for gold. Unfortunately the weather was so mild that the miners slept in the open air and there was little demand for his tents. So he took a bold step. He cut up the strong cotton material of his tents and used it to make trousers that he sold to the miners. The man’s name was Levi Strauss.

Nearly every problem presents us with opportunities. What is required is an attitude of adventure and the ability to see the opportunity and take the risk. If you can do these things you can turn problems into profitable innovations.