The art of entrepreneurship is getting things done with limited resources. If you want to run a successful business, you have to learn to leverage people, money, opportunities and, more importantly, problems.
Every challenge, after all, gives you an opportunity to come up with a creative solution that will ease your way and, hopefully, differentiate you from your competitors.
Here's an interesting example of turning dilemmas into opportunities—a war story from Winston Churchill's memoirs of the Second World War.
Churchill was Britain's prime minister through most of the war. His detailed six-volume chronicle of the war years was a bestseller, and won for him the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature.
His fourth volume, The Hinge of Fate, deals with the darkest days of Britain's war in 1942—the loss of its Asian colonies, including the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese, and setbacks in the desert war against the Nazis' Afrikakorps. By the book's end, in spring 1943, the arrival of American armies in Britain and Africa foreshadows the change of fortunes that resulted in victory in 1945.
But in 1942, with Europe under German domination and Japan conquering southeast Asia and threatening India, the Allies were hard-pressed. Especially worrisome were the German submarines that were constantly sinking ships carrying precious supplies to Britain. This is when Britain was in most need of innovative solutions to situations which they could not control.
To help German aircraft and U-boats in the North Atlantic find their way, the Germans had set up a long-range transmitter in northwest Spain. At the time Spain was neutral, although its fascist dictator Franco sympathized with the Nazis. The British were determined to knock out the transmitter, but the situation was fraught with peril.
To conduct a military raid on Spain might invite the Spanish to join the war—and threaten Britain's essential fortress at Gibraltar. Yet even to take a diplomatic approach, Churchill wrote, "would have involved us in endless legal and diplomatic controversy." What was the solution to this quandary?
Facing a dilemma like this, entrepreneurs should look for a way to rephrase the problem. Rather than "How do we eliminate the transmitter?" a better question might be, "How do we turn this dismal situation into our best advantage?"
And that's what the British did, thanks to a timely suggestion from an Air Ministry intelligence officer. The British decided to use the radio beacon, too.
"By taking photographs of the equipment we were able to learn how it worked," wrote Churchill, "and henceforward our aircraft and fighting ships were supplied with a first-rate position-finding service which they shared happily with the enemy."
Keeping an open mind and watching for opportunities can pay off more than once. As Churchill concluded, "Coastal Command were in fact able to use it to a greater extent than the Germans themselves, and it was so efficient that we built several similar beacons for service in Australia and the Pacific."
Next time you're in a tight spot, shift your perspective and ask, "How else can I turn this situation into an advantage?" You never know where your creativity may take you.