July 19, 2021

How Do You Find ‘Your’ Problem to Solve?

Albert Foreman Store Problems as Opportunities
By: Joanie Weber

Albert Edward Foreman, a humble clergyman who cannot read or write, has spent 16 years in a comfortable position at his local church when we meet him in the opening lines of the short story The Verger by W. Somerset Maugham

But there’s a shakeup in his peaceful world. The parish comes under new management, and Foreman is fired from his job because of his illiteracy. On his walk home, the disheartened former verger accidentally takes the wrong street—and this fortuitous detour introduces him to a need in his community. 

He finds himself craving a cigarette, but there are no shops that he can see to fill this craving. He knows that if he has this need, others probably do, too, which prompts him to open a small tobacco shop. One shop eventually grows into more, and Foreman becomes an unlikely entrepreneur. 

By creating a character who sees beyond the limitations of his current situation, Maugham gives us a perfect example of entrepreneurship. Foreman embarks upon the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others—and by creating value for others, he empowers himself. 

Seeing Problems as Opportunities

Many of us live and work in situations with known problems, and therefore known solutions. Most likely, someone provided the answers to you in a systematic way. That could be the rules and curriculum at school or policies and regulations for common problems at the workplace.

Constantly conforming to solutions imposed by others can limit your ability to recognize opportunities in everyday problems. The entrepreneurial mindset involves learning to recognize these opportunities as the chance to add value. 

Like Foreman, most people likely focus on their limitations and mistakes. The entrepreneurial mindset lets us look for insights instead. And because our minds tend to see what we are trained to see—a phenomenon psychologists refer to as selective attention—we can increase our ability to see opportunities.

Finding Your Problem to Solve

‌Once you learn how to spot opportunities in everyday life, you will start seeing them in many of the problems, frustrations, and unmet needs around you. 

Knowing your strengths and expertise lets you determine where to focus your efforts to create value for others. Your most successful ideas will likely be those you have the skills and knowledge to create genuine value. 

In The Verger, Foreman focuses on his ability to fulfill the unmet needs in his community. He brings in the expertise he needs to supplement his knowledge. Foreman’s entrepreneurial mindset leads him to become a very successful business owner, even though he never does learn to read. 

The entrepreneurial mindset can benefit you in all facets of your life, letting you see potential in every obstacle. It helps keep you motivated and engaged and improves your ability to be resilient in the face of challenges.