Japan, like other countries, has been forced to adjust to the cashless economy.
Due to the pandemic, it happened faster than anyone expected.
People are paying for everything using plastic – consequently, people don’t need cash.
If people don’t need cash, people don’t need 24-hour cash machines.
So banks across Japan have been closing their ATM sites.
Being Japanese, these aren’t just the hole-in-the-wall ATMs we’re used to.
They are glass cubicles, each about the size of an average room, capable of taking one customer as they make a withdrawal.
So now the ATMs stand empty, too small for retail shops to take over.
But one man’s problem is another man’s opportunity.
Fujieda Jun is founder and chief executive of Baobab Bread Company, making speciality bread: fluffy, soft, sliced loaves.
The Japanese love this delicate bread, and Jun wanted to launch his brand.
He looked all over Osaka for a place to open a small store – to get people to sample it – but, obviously, it was difficult during a pandemic.
No-one builds tiny stores, and he didn’t want a large, expensive store that would need a major refit.
He needed a little store, already built, clean and safe, in a high-traffic area.
That’s a big ask, but that’s when he discovered the ATM sites larger stores didn’t want.
These were perfect for his pop-up speciality bread store, called Tokasho.
The banks, of course, built these ATMs exactly where most people would pass by, they were clean and safe, and small.
What would be a disadvantage to anyone else was perfect for him – the ATMs could only hold one customer at a time which, during a pandemic, made them ideal.
People would queue outside, which, in itself, was an advertisement.
Tokasho immediately took over the ATM at Osaka’s Azamino station, from Mega Bank.
Osaka is one of the busiest commuter cities in Japan, and women would stop in for bread while they picked up their children from school or their husband from the station.
Seeing how successful Jun’s pop-up shop was, others followed suit – udon noodle bars, coffee bars, anyone whose business was strictly takeaway, anyone who didn’t want a huge store with high rents but needed a safe and clean location in a high-traffic area.
And because the ATMs were standing empty, the banks were happy to rent them cheaply.
What had been a problem, looked at another way, became an opportunity.
Turning problems into opportunities used to be what the best advertising did.
Adam Morgan and Mark Barden address this subject in their book A Beautiful Constraint.
In the introduction they discuss Mick Jagger’s unique style on stage, the tight flamboyance of his moves that have become universally recognisable.
There was even a song Moves Like Jagger by Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera that went to number one in the US and sold seven million copies worldwide.
So how did Jagger develop such a unique style?
Keith Richards says it came from the tiny venues they played at when they started off.
Between the group’s equipment and the audience, there was hardly any room to move on the tiny stage.
So Jagger had to condense all his flamboyance into a small, tight space, which became his unique style.
As Benjamin Levine, who wrote the song said: “There’s something about the way Jagger moves that is uniquely his own and hard to imitate, but also accessible and silly and fun, not taking itself too seriously.”
And it came from turning a problem into an opportunity, what we used to call creativity.
Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three