Your next big opportunity is in your garage

I am sure you have the odd coffee where you get together with your office mate to discuss the next big idea that you have. Google guys watch out, here we come. In the world around you, professionals and organizations are always looking for the next Ipod, Google, medical miracle or oil project. This week’s podcast is with Gad Shaanan. He is one of Canada’s most successful industrial designers. His firm just won the equivalent of an Oscar within his field – a best of 2007 I.D. award for packaging with his work on the new WD-40 can. The big questions we all have are how do we identify our next opportunity and how to do this before everyone else is on the bandwagon?

Often, the biggest opportunities for your next gig or big idea may be found in your garage. Gad’s story itself is quite interesting. He grew up traveling all over the world as the son of a diplomat. One of the things that he started doing quite young was taking things apart to see how they work. This curiosity and talent led him clearly on the path towards Industrial design. Leaving Montreal he went to study industrial design in a school in Milan. He was attracted to the European sense of design, studying in Italy and reputation of the school. Upon graduation, he spent some time in Milan and then returned to Montreal where he eventually opened his own design firm. It started quite accidentally when he realized the firm he was working with was on a completely different path than he wanted to go. He handed in his resignation and by Wednesday of the following week he had 3 clients. His one bedroom apartment became part model room and world headquarters for his new firm. He now has offices in Montreal and La Jolla, San Diego and a team of 30. As Gad says, "I love the energy and cosmopolitan feel of Montreal and I get my inspiration from the ocean". He is no fool – July in Montreal and February in San Diego – where do I sign up?

Running an Industrial design firm, Gad has no guaranteed pay check. Every year he needs to be paying attention to where there are new opportunities and problems to solve. Often, the biggest opportunities for your next gig or big idea may be found in your garage. Gad’s firm was brought in by the WD-40 Corporation to re-evaluate their core product. WD-40 was created in 1953 by high school graduate, Norman Larson. He was an inventor at heart, and was looking for a product that would displace water and prevent corrosion on rockets. The WD stands for water displacement, the 40 stands for the fact it took him 40 different tries to get it right. Fast forward to today. It is sold in 163 countries, has 94% market recognition and the average house has 3-4 cans. Unfortunately for Norman, he sold the rights to the product for $10,000 a few years after designing the product. It is a great product and I personally have used it for a number of different needs in my life, however, it had a fundamental problem. 80% of users end up losing the red straw that you use to get a fine spray from. WD- 40 itself had a "squeaky wheel" that needed fixing. This is where Gad’s company came in – a small problem and great opportunity for Gad and his team to make a difference.

Here are 5 principles to help you identify your next opportunity:

Principle 1: There is always opportunity to make anything, and I do mean anything better. "I love reinventing old products", Gad said. Every single day, thousands of new products and companies are created in the world by professionals who are not waiting for permission from the market. From reinventing what we have to coming up with a brand widget. The world is not a static place, which is what makes this time in our career so exciting. What are you waiting for?

Principle 2: You need to keep your eyes and your ears open. How many of you have been frustrated with not being able to find that straw? Did you see the big opportunity in the tiny red straw? Some people see and listen, others don’t. You choose.

Principle 3: Most companies don’t see themselves or their products clearly. Gad was able to bring in a fresh perspective from the outside. He had no bias, but was able to offer the tools and expertise to help the WD-40 can be a much better product. What can you bring to a new employer or product that they don’t "see"?

Principle 4: Let the rubber meet the road. With Gad’s design, WD-40 had to decide if it was prepared to implement the idea. There was risk involved, but ultimately they pulled the trigger and implemented his ideas into the product. Are you prepared to take courageous action with your ideas?

Principle 5: Show me the money. Remember, at the end of the day the questions all organizations are asking are: How does this help us make money? How does this save money? In WD-40 with the new design, they sold 4 million (yes million) cans in Russia in a very short order. Where can you help your company save or make money?

Here’s the thing. There is lots of opportunity left in all businesses. If you bring your passion and talent to the needs in the market, magical things can happen. Gad has done this consistently and has ultimate job security and he does great work for this clients. And yes, you might just help millions of people have a better life! Next week I will share the 5 design principles that Gad used to create this global hit.

Struggling with finding your next opportunity? Ironically, as I talked with Gad, I realized we both are in the business of helping our clients design a better future. Take smart action and bring in an expert today.

Along the road with you!

Alan