About this time last year I wrote how we should aim to give back to others, not just in the form of a charitable monetary donation, with our time and expertise.   So my first blog for 2015 begins with a small confession…I don’t always practice what I teach!
While I am lucky to be part of the superb TommorowToday team and get to speak on topics that range from ‘The TIDES of Disruptive Change’ and ‘Succeeding through Disruptive Change’ I often forget to take some of the insights on board myself.
Here’s a case in point. I was recently invited to sit on a panel to help determine which young entrepreneurs’ winning ideas would win a development grant. The brief explained that these were 16-25 year old people, from an economically deprived part of the city, had been part of a national search for up and coming talent. None of the 9 finalists (whittled down from an original list of 27 entrants) had any business experience or studied business related topics in school.
Reading this last part resulted in my generational lenses slipping before my eyes! Without the benefit of business experience or learning I concluded that the whole event might just slip into a 5 hour lacklustre investment of time and on a Saturday too! However, I believe strongly in keeping commitments and I had committed to showing up at 930am on a clear-blue sky Saturday morning in Manchester!
The final 9 participants in the were an eclectic mix of young people with equally disparate business ideas for which they were hoping would secure them one of 3 winning grants. After meeting my two fellow panellists (who also had no clear expectations of what was going to happen in the ‘7 Minute pitches’).
Once all of the pitches were over I was able to reflect on what I expected from these young people and balanced it against what I was expecting and determined the following:

  • Time management was a lost art amongst these young presenters as all of them exceeded their 7 minute limit
  • Their sense of business planning was non-existent because they had never been introduced to the concept
  • They were all very relaxed about revenues and costs with a heavy reliance on the goodwill of friends, families and strangers to help
  • A complete omission of any risk related to their business idea with an endearing, yet worrying, level of optimism that everything will work first time, every time!
  • Presenting their business concepts felt like the equivalent of having asked them to speak in Latin. Using a business presentation framework appeared to severely constrain their ability to express themselves and the passion for their ideas
  • On the positive side they smiled, remained positive and were very excited about their concepts and open to all kinds of questions with ‘honest’ answers like, ‘That’s a great point and I never even thought about it at all!’

At the end of it all the panel and I had 3 unanimous winners who may not have been the best presenters, planners or finance chiefs but they had ideas that were beautifully simple and matched a need in the community and the market. The winners were:

  1. A ‘Street Art’ concept that looked to encourage local artists to display their work on public spaces to help brighten the community. The idea originator, an artist himself, showed how fence panels, boarded up buildings, bus shelters and even pavements could be used as a ‘canvas’ to display local artistic talent. The community would be the selectors through a panel approach and the art would be rotated on a regular basis.
  2. A naturally talented fashion icon in the making presented a concept to bring fashion design and sewing to the local community. This would include using the talents of senior citizens at the local care homes to help teach younger people the skills required to design, make and mend their own ‘customised’ clothing.
  3. A young baker, with a talent for making cupcakes, wanted to work with other young children to help them learn how to bake and decorate their own creations. On Sundays he wanted to do the same but for families at the local community centre. This young entrepreneur had worked out all of the details required along with an approach to a large baking supply company to help provide ingredients.

The experience really illuminated how fulfilling these events can be for both the panellist and the participants. I won’t call it a ‘Dragon’s Den’ type of event because I think that concept (much like ‘The Apprentice’) has morphed from being about good business and management ideas into entertainment and a contest aimed at getting the quirkiest personalities onto our screens for their 15 minutes of fame.
At the outset my own ‘Generational Bias’ suggested that the role of the panel would be to try and find the best of a bad bunch of ideas. What could young people possibly know about taking an idea through to an operating business?! Especially without any formal management or business learning having taken place?! How delightfully wrong I was proven to be as we saw some of the most authentic young people I have ever come across explain their ideas with a passion and sense of excitement that was contagious. The event really opened my eyes to the value of young people and their ideas and they are not all the stereotypical ‘selfie-generation’ but the future pool of ideas and new business models. I cannot recommend enough that you go share your experience and talents with the next generation! There will be learning for all!
Happy New Year Everyone and roll-on 2015!

TomorrowToday Global