The Week in BIG Ideas Volume 4
By Beverley Hammond
Founder & CEO
My Father started his first business - a taxi company - as a teenager and hired his own father to work for him. Now, this was around WWII when many Canadians were overseas which meant he could get a driver’s license at the age of 15. An extraordinary circumstance. It also had something to do with his high school principal “suggesting” school probably wasn’t his best option. Just the right mix of necessity, circumstance and enterprising spirit.
Things changed after the end of the post war boom, and the 1970s was arguably the worst economic decade since the Great Depression. While the 80s sowed the seeds of the innovation age – from Microsoft to the Apple computer to Prozac, - it seemed like the era was defined mostly by a lot of middle management and “working for The Man” - corporate jobs in traditional industries. Certainly, between the lemonade stand and college graduation there wasn't tremendous opportunity nor much enthusiasm for, being your own boss.
Then came the millennials. There is a lot of debate about whether these Gen-Xers, dubbed the “entrepreneurial generation”, really are. If they aren’t, then certainly the emergence of digital disruption, the speed at which they can get their businesses off the ground and the extent to which they can market themselves, has created that perception.
Now, as they age, and Gen-Z begins to come of age, a new breed of entrepreneur is emerging – one that is more ambitious, savvy, connected and far, far younger.
I’ve become fascinated with Gen-Z, the 72 million or so, born somewhere between the mid ‘90s and 2014. Hyper-connected kids with unprecedented knowledge of technology, unfettered access to information, true gender blindness, and a lot of influence over their parents. They are a generation being raised to believe they can do literally anything.
Because, it seems, they can.
In last week’s blog I said, “there has not been another period in history where so much has been contributed by so many, so young”. This week I explore that supposition further.
BIG Idea #1: No, Mr. Shaw, Youth is NOT Wasted on the Young
There is a well-used maxim attributed to the late George Bernard Shaw that goes in part “youth is wasted on the young”. I can assure you my experience last week with Future Design School Young Innovators Camp at Rosseau Lake College would certainly suggest otherwise.
In short, this was an eye-opener for me about the amazing capacity of the Gen-Z cohort - growing up in an era of unparalleled access to information and communication - to both understand and to contemplate innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Basically, in a week of day-camp these kids are taught how to identify a problem, design an empathy-based technology to fix it; develop the wire frame, the business case and the brand; then pitch their idea.
Picture a group of 10 and 11-year-old kids munching on Skittles, wiping their noses on their sleeves, playing with their hair and giggling about “goose poop” all while tackling some of society’s biggest challenges. Frankly, the juxtaposition was, at first, unnerving.
Now, this is not merely a hypothetical exercise. It is teaching a design-thinking approach to problem solving that aims to “empower students with the tools they need to be future ready”. It is a remarkable week in education that starts with a brainstorm around the big issues facing society; introduces the children to “how might we…?” (each word of that statement specifically chosen to teach curiosity, knowledge that there is always more than one solution to a problem and collaboration); then sets them on a course to answer the question with an app-based solution to a problem they are passionate about.
The apps I saw last week ranged from weed control for golf course owners, and gamifying garbage pick-up to assisting Canadians in choosing the right charity, and helping people suffering from depression to find community and the resources they need. Not exactly what I imagine any of us were doing in Grade Six. Or in one week. But we simply didn't have the tools.
The more I understand the environment these children are growing up in, the more I realize it truly is a different world, in almost every sense. I see the need for educators to provide the tools and “future-ready” training, so they can achieve their full potential – which, for so many reasons, is simply much greater than ours ever was, or could have been, at their age.
In response to an off-hand comment I made to one young participant that “personally, I could really use” the solution he was working on, he proposed that for a $100,000 investment in his company he would give me one for free.
He wasn't joking.
BIG Idea #2: Kid Experts
In this new world, is it any wonder that more and more Gen Z kids want to be – and are actually becoming – their own boss.
While six-year old YouTube toy reviewer Ryan Higa (not his real name) who made $11 million last year and now has his own line of toys at Walmart may be an exception, he is unquestionably an example of how social media and the stratospheric rise of the “personal brand” are the hallmarks of this new generation of entrepreneur.
Melinda Guo, the 18-year-old co-founder of JÜV Consulting, (Juv, like ‘juvenile’) articulated it well when she said “we’re so used to creating our images on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat. For us, to brand ourselves on a personal website or via a business is just second nature.”
Called “millennials on steroids,” this group also has access to money (their parents’ money) and a lot of influence on purchase behaviour (their parents’ purchase behaviour). At the same time, they have lived in the shadows of a global commercial obsession with ‘millennials’ their entire lives – the predecessors they feel they are NOTHING like.
With businesses coming to realize the differences between Y and Z – many of those in the latter group, like Melinda Guo, are taking advantage of it - spawning a new and growing industry, the Gen Z consultant. Teens making a lot of money explaining themselves and their friends to brands and businesses like telcos, record labels, automotive companies, food brands, airlines major retailers ad agencies and a whole host of Fortune 500 companies.
JÜV, a business made up of all teenagers that Guo co-founded with friends, boasts a paid staff of 90 that use their innate networking abilities to make connections around the globe and then leverage these as sources of information and research. This summer the JÜV executive team held meetings with clients, worked on projects, hung out and even lived together in a Brooklyn loft. This fall that team will all become students again – heading back to their respective colleges but keeping JÜV going on a part-time basis.
Meet the Gen Z entrepreneur - just the right mix of necessity, circumstance and enterprising spirit.
BIG Idea #3 – A Novel Approach to Instagram Stories
I know Instagram Stories are all the rage - or whatever term those Gen Z’s are using for ‘popular’. Personally, I find them a bit annoying because I am constantly trying to reverse to see something that happened too fast for me to catch the first time; fumbling to stop the video so I can look more closely; or attempting to fast-forward through multiple ads peppered amongst posts of all the stories of friends and relatives I’m struggling to watch. I guess I’m just an ‘old school Instagrammer’, with a preference for still photos, a bit of narrative and a clever hashtag or two.
At the same time, I get really excited when brands find ways to re-imagine how social platforms can be used to deliver entirely new content, or even old content in entirely new ways. It seems to happen so rarely these days. But this week, the New York Public Library did just that by turning the Instagram Stories function into something really innovative and at the same time exactly what it purports to be – a platform for, well, stories.
Now on @nypl you can access Insta Novels - the heavily digitized telling of iconic stories.
The Library launched Insta Novels this past week with an amazing two-part version of Lewis Carroll’s infamous children’s book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by well-known designer Magoz. There are two more Insta Novels soon to be illuminated on Instagram Stories: the first, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wallpaper"; and “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka.
This initiative to broaden the reach of some of the world’s great stories was created in partnership with New York agency, Mother - an agency I refer to often, and with great reverence as “the ultimate BIG Ideas factory”.
With Insta Novels, not only has New York Public Library introduced a whole new use for a social platform, it is exposing a wide audience to the wonders of literary classics and, selfishly, it has me enjoying Instagram Stories in a way I never have. To my mind, that’s three BIG ideas all rolled into one.
Thanks to @k_hammond4 for introducing me to the amazing kids at Young Innovators Camp. As always, if you’re enjoying this blog, please pass it on and please feel free to share any ideas – your own or others – with me at firstname.lastname@example.org using the Subject Line: Here’s a BIG Idea
Until next week, that was this week in BIG ideas!