Friday, May 13, 2005

Young people, innovation and opportunity

I gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin Business School recently on starting and maintaining sustainable enterprises. One question from the follow up session has stuck in my mind ever since.

Before the talk I'd had dinner with some of the students who had organized the event. These young people were bright, savvy, challenging and inspiring. They had more good ideas for new enterprises over dinner than most of us have in a year. I focused on that hopeful enthusiasm in my talk. I knew that I was in a room full of talent.

After the talk we moved into the question and answer phase (my favorite). I expected a number of the cool ideas we talked about over dinner to get brought up for more discussion. However, the questions took a turn I hadn't expected. One of my dinner mates, a quick and knowledgeable student asked the following question: "We may have enthusiasm and great ideas, but won't the business world just see us as young punks? Aren't they're going to think, 'What does this kid know?' How can we break through these barriers?"

Hmmmm. Confidence. They had the skills. They didn't have confidence.

Business barriers are your own creation. They don't exist unless you put them there. If you've got a fix for a problem it doesn't matter if you're 16 or 86.

I'm not some retired guy who has sold a business and now gently blogs away on the veranda. I'm a guy still in the middle of a big damn start up fight. As I write this, I'm looking at a desk full of problems and potential. Fireworks are exploding, sirens are going off, data is flying and solutions are gold. I'm looking for help from ANY quarter I can find it. If a young person has a fix, I write a check. I am not reserving access to problem solving to a short list of old buddy vendors. That's just idiocy in this economy.

Young people have something many of us lose as we get older. A blank slate. Most young folks haven't learned to lug around the flawed perception that, "This is just the way things are." They don't accept that, thankfully.

It took a young person to shout, "The emperor has no clothes!"

There has never been more opportunity for solving problems. Young people often have the gift of seeing those problems more clearly than the rest of us. The process for creating innovative solutions has never been more accessible. Young people are the best connected to the grid. They are quicker to learn new skills and the new tools available. Young people have the most potential for finding innovative ways to promote and distribute their solutions.

A fix is a fix is a fix. If you've got one it doesn't matter how old you are. The world needs your help. Smart people and organizations everywhere are ready to encourage and celebrate young people if you're fixing a problem they have.

That's the idea remember? Fixing problems. No matter your age. Sustainable work.

Welcome, my young friends. Now get to work.

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