I just returned from a three day business trip to San Antonio. The Alamo is the number one tourist attraction in Texas, drawing over 4 million visitors, including me, every year. But it’s the city’s number two attraction – the River Walk – that always captures my attention. What started out as a problem area became a major economic benefit.
The San Antonio River loops through downtown. When a horrible flood claimed fifty lives in 1921, plans were drawn up for a flood control system to help divert water away from the area. The downtown loop would be paved over as a storm sewer. As work began on the flood control channel, a new idea for the downtown bend was proposed. Rather than covering up the river, the new plan called for highlighting it. The new, safer loop of the river would be surrounded by shops and restaurants ushering in a wave of commercial development and tourism.
Today, an expanded River Walk is the home of numerous hotels and specialty shops. Thousands of people each day take a ride on a River Walk Taxi or Cruise Barge. And numerous conferences and events take place there year-round.
I love how this problem wasn’t just fixed, but turned into a competitive advantage. As I thought about this turnaround, I was reminded of other cases where opportunity rose from frustration.
My favorite examples of this type of innovation come from The Walt Disney Company. They have perfected the art of turning problems into opportunities.
What’s the worst part of any theme park ride? It’s the time spent waiting to get on. Well, at Disney, they recognized this source of frustration and added video monitors that explain the story upon which the ride is based. It’s done so well that the time spent in line becomes part of the attraction. They also created the Fast Pass – a system that lets you reserve a spot on the more popular rides then visit something else instead of waiting.
And when you look at your pictures from vacation, who’s always missing? The family member taking the picture. Disney addressed this by hiring hundreds of photographers and stationing them around the parks at the best photo spots. Now everyone gets to be in the picture and Disney has a new revenue stream.
And it doesn’t stop once you leave at the end of the day. Don’t know where you parked the car? Disney’s parking lot attendants can get you to the right section based on the time you arrived at the park. Lock your keys in the car? Disney has locksmiths that can get you in quickly. It’s no surprise that Disney is the number one vacation destination for families. They don’t just fix problems – they turn them into strategic opportunities to grow revenue and increase customer satisfaction.
So, what’s your problem? I’ll bet your organization has a few of these hidden opportunities as well. Every business has obstacles that get in the way, barriers to customer satisfaction, stumbling blocks that get in the way of excellence. I challenge you to identify them and then forget about fixing them. Maximize the opportunity.