How to Spot an Opportunity

Point: How do you spot an opportunity? Notice an anomaly and investigate it.

Story: Ted Nierenberg launches Dansk International Designs

In the mid-1950s, Ted Nierenberg attended an industrial fair in Germany. While at the fair, he noticed many booths displaying stainless steel flatware. This surprised Ted, because at that time in the US, stainless steel tableware only appeared in mess halls and school cafeterias, not homes or restaurants. Ted investigated: Why wasn’t stainless steel flatware more prevalent in the US? Answer: because it wasn’t very attractive. So Ted had an idea: could the flatware be made attractive yet remain inexpensive? He decided to investigate. First, he visited factories in Germany, checking equipment and costs. Then, he visited designers in Scandinavia to see if they were making anything that would appeal to American tastes. That was the genesis of the new business idea, producing what as considered paradoxical at the time: “elegant stainless steel.”


In your daily experiences — and especially when attending special events like trade shows — look for patterns and anomalies. Do you see something that surprises you? Ask yourself why it surprises you. Chances are that it’s something new to you — and thus likely new to others as well. Investigate the surprise. Could you take part of it and apply it to a new product or service idea? Be particularly alert for paradoxes. Great opportunities exist in paradoxes because people consider paradoxes unresolveable.

5 Comments »How-to, Opportunity

5 Responses to “How to Spot an Opportunity”

  1. Rosemary Carstens Feb 13th 2009 at 05:15 pm 1

    This is SO true! A mentor of mine many years ago told that in time of trouble look for opportunity–it’s always there. I try to remind myself of this in these difficult economic times. What new services are companies trying to fulfill, how do they plan to meet new challenges? With so many companies downsizing, freelancers like myself may find new niches and new opportunities–

  2. Claire Walter Feb 13th 2009 at 05:23 pm 2

    Dansk has been an iconic brand for a long time. I had no idea how it came to be.

  3. Melanie Mulhall Feb 13th 2009 at 06:12 pm 3


    Wonderful example! Implied in your story is the need to be present and in the body. One cannot notice the anomaly and seize the opportunity unless one is in the present moment–instead of mucking around in the past or fantasizing the future. Business owner, take notice!

    I look forward to seeing more from you!


  4. Kathy Kaiser Feb 14th 2009 at 03:22 pm 4


    Congratulations on your blog. I love your advice to look for things that surprise you. And see where that leads.

  5. Sara Feb 17th 2009 at 06:22 pm 5

    Great thoughts. And the simple truth is not everyone even pays attention. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded.

    Another way to spot opportunity is to watch what people do. If everyone is doing something in particular, it’s a good bet you will find the opportunity and success in doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

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