There is a well-known story about how Sir Richard Branson, a successful British Entrepreneur founded his airline called Virgin Atlantic Airline. It was when he was stranded and when he was in a big problem. In his own words:
“In 1979, when Joan, my fiancee and I were on a holiday in the British Virgin Islands, we were trying to catch a flight to Puerto Rico; but the local Puerto Rican scheduled flight was cancelled. The airport terminal was full of stranded passengers. I made a few calls to charter companies and agreed to charter a plane for $2 000 to Puerto Rico. Cheekily leaving out Joan’s and my name, I divided the price by the remaining number of passengers, borrowed a blackboard and wrote: VIRGIN AIRWAYS: $39 for a single flight to Puerto Rico.”
You can see here that while many people were stranded, only Richard Branson thought creatively to find an alternative and quick solution to the problem at hand. He chartered a plane and got the rest of stranded passengers to pay for the charter bill of $2 000 (which was a lot of money in 1979) at $39 each! Richard Branson and his fiancee flew for free in the process! The story goes on to say that while on the charter flight, Branson was busy developing a business model for his Virgin Atlantic Airline based on the framework of chartering planes and then getting passengers to pay air ticket prices that would pay the charter price plus a good profit margin for him!
This is an ideal illustration of my hypothesis that most problems bring along them new big opportunities. Whenever we are faced with a problem, we ought to think deep and look carefully to find the new arising opportunities that would not have been possible without the problem. When I look back in my life, some of the best opportunities I have enjoyed emanated from problems. Each time I discovered those opportunities behind the problems, I achieved a lot. But there have also been moments when I was also consumed in the problems and overwhelmed by the challenge at hand. Those are the most regrettable moments when I missed on great opportunities. With time, I am pushing myself to master the discipline of searching for opportunities that hide in problems each time I face a problem. I have found that most problems do indeed come with great opportunities, when you look hard and long.
All our political greats from John Chilembwe, Kamuzu Banda, Chakufwa Chihana, Bakili Muluzi and the most recent ones exploited opportunities behind problems of racism, freedom fighting, independence, autocracy/democracy, poverty and so on. In business too, entrepreneurs spend nights looking for solutions to problems as ways to start or expand their businesses. Without problems, an entrepreneur has no business to do!
Remember that when we had the problem of fuel some three to four years ago, the sellers of zigubu made a fortune! Similarly, when many students were struggling to pass University Entrance Examinations a few years ago, the twin brothers Fumu and Phaskani Msiska (then first-year engineering students at the Polytechnic) started the business of coaching students for entrance examinations and they made quite a bit of money—they later became quite enterprising as civil engineers in South Africa, where they continued to look at opportunities behind problems. Many people went on to copy this business of entrance exam coaching.
If you want to excel in life, constantly look for opportunities behind problems that you face or problems faced by others. Next time you have a problem, remember Sir Richard Branson, twin brothers Fumu and Phaskani Msiska and the zigubu business people. Think of what such great people would have done—go for that and you will have profited from the problems. All the best!