How to Discover Innovative Opportunities


In an earlier column, “Why Innovate? To Make Money, of Course!”, I wrote that in order to make money from innovation, you need to find a good problem to solve. I suggested that a good way to find such a problem is to look at some of your daily tasks and identify the ones you detest. I then suggested that if you hate doing it, then there are probably countless other people who hate it as well, which means that you have identified a problem that needs solving. And, your solution might become a million-dollar idea.

Another way to discover a million-dollar idea is when you’ve been frustrated as a customer. But, don’t take my word for it.

Thomas Stemberg started several successful businesses after he was frustrated as a customer. When he couldn’t find shoes that properly fit his children’s feet, he started the Olly Shoes Fit for a Kid! company. When a dry cleaner lost one of his expensive shirts, he created the Zoots dry-cleaning chain. And, when he couldn’t find a printer ribbon on a holiday weekend, he founded the STAPLES office supply store chain.

Those are just 3 of the many business ideas Stemberg had. He once said, “I get my best ideas for starting a new business from having been frustrated as a customer.”

That quote by Stemberg is like a roadmap for finding money-making opportunities. Where have you been frustrated as a customer? Perhaps you already have a million-dollar idea lurking in the back of your mind, because you know you can do it better. Don’t just complain about it and walk away. Go deeper, think about it, explore the possibilities, and see if you have what it takes to create a new business.

Here’s another scenario to ponder: How is your competition frustrating their customers? If you can find that out, and improve upon it, then you can take their customers away.

While you’re at it ask yourself: How am I frustrating my customers? Ask them, they’ll happily tell you. Then you can fix it; keep your current customers satisfied; and earn some new ones with your improved product or service. That’s why so many companies run customer-satisfaction surveys, so they can solve problems that might be costing them money.

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A great example of someone who was frustrated as a customer and started a business because of it is Rico Elmore. Rico is a big guy: he is 6 foot, 3 inches tall, and weighs 300 pounds. When he got married, he and his wife went to Las Vegas for their honeymoon. While there, he misplaced his sunglasses. No problem, he thought, I’ll just buy a new pair. But, when he went shopping he couldn’t find a single pair that fit his large head. He went to several stores before giving up. There simply were no sunglasses available in his size.

Frustrated, Elmore decided that when he got back home to Indiana, he would have several pairs of sunglasses custom made to fit his head. He was determined to never have this problem again. He’d keep several pairs on hand, so he’d always have a backup if one pair were broken or lost. Then while he was doing his research on getting custom sunglasses manufactured, it occurred to him that he couldn’t be the only person with this problem. So, instead of only making a few pairs for himself, Rico decided to start a company that specialized in making sunglasses for people with big heads.

It took him a couple of years to figure it all out, but in late 2005 he launched his new company Fatheadz eyewear. By 2010 he had landed Walmart as an account and hit $2 million in sales. The company has been growing ever since.

As you go through your life’s activities keep your eyes open, or better yet your feelings. When you find yourself feeling irritated, annoyed, or frustrated, look a little closer and ask Can I do this better? Can I improve this situation? Is there a business opportunity here? Then maybe you can make the world a better place, by coming up with a million-dollar idea!



About Author

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist-speaker and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is the author of ...and Never Coming Back, a psychological thriller-novel about a motion picture director; the inspirational book Wisdom in the Weirdest Places; and The Annoying Ghost Kid, a humorous children’s book about dealing with a bully. For more information on Robert, please visit

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