OK, first of all I’m not saying that you can’t be visionary unless you are young. But I sure think it helps.
Innovation needs a goal, a purpose, a vision for how to make the world a better place. Otherwise it can revert to just being fun creativity. But when someone is truly visionary and creates something new that will make a positive difference in their community THAT is something special.
Innovation is about more than making money
We sometimes applaud the entrepreneurs who are super financially successful. But true visionaries tend to focus first on making their communities or the world a better place. I tend to notice it a lot among young people around high school age - partly because I promote it through the nonprofit I work with, Believe In a Dream Inc. And partly because I see it in classrooms that I visit, especially at New Tech Academy here in Fort Wayne.
I won’t try to explain why young people tend to be visionary. One stereotype would say that they are more idealistic. Another would say that the older we get, the more set in our ways we become (see my earlier post about escaping the status quo). Let’s just agree that young people can be very innovative.
Here are two stories.
Lana and Lucy
Earlier this week I was at New Tech Academy, a project based learning high school here in my city. I was listening to student business pitches in Bob Haddad’s class. The students had just developed their ideas, and this was their initial pitch. Two young ladies, Lana and Lucy, had noticed the myriad of problems that keep young women from entering careers in trades (welding, electrical, construction, etc.). The statistics about not just bottlenecks and inequality, but also about many forms of tangible abuse, are overwhelming. Lana and Lucy pitched an organization that would directly address those problems and work at the grass roots level to prepare young women for equality in trades careers.
Where other students in the class were envisioning small businesses or side gigs that would be cool and make some money, Lana and Lucy were keying on making our community better, to vastly grow the numbers of young ladies working in the trades - and making their lives better. They already had buy-in from 40 young ladies who wanted to pursue trades careers. Sure, they will need to make money for sustainability, but the focus of their pitch was not money or having a fun business - it was their vision of a better world.
When Madeline Phuong’s family adopted a rescue poodle, Madeline used that as inspiration for a new venture to support animal nonprofits. It just so happens that Madeline is one of Fort Wayne’s most talented visual artists. Four years ago she started selling prints of her original work, giving the proceeds to worthy animal nonprofits. Since then she has expanded into other art-related ways to raise funds. Today she is a high school Junior and her company, A Second Chance Fort Wayne, has donated over $13,000 to multiple local animal nonprofits.
When you visit her website and her Etsy shop, you will be as amazed as I was at her artwork. She could have sold her art and kept all of the proceeds for herself. She didn’t. She saw a different vision. It took one inspiration for her to see a vision of a city where animal nonprofits flourished, bringing thousands of pets home to new loving families, just like hers. Just one inspiration for Madeline to have that Aha moment of innovation that said, “Hey, this is a great idea, and I can do this - I can make a difference!”
Very cool, Madeline!
That’s what it’s like to have a purpose, a goal, a vision for how to make the world better. That’s what it’s like to be young and visionary.