Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the TEDx Detroit conference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and is a gathering of leading artists, entrepreneurs, educators, designers, thinkers and doers who share their “big idea” worth spreading. Meeting in locations all over the world (the x factor), this Detroit gathering included people who offered bright ideas in a variety of areas. Here is a sampling of the ideas presented.
Paul Elio of Elio Motors believes that mobility is one of the primary roadblocks to individuals getting a job and thereby overcoming poverty. So he designed a 2 seater vehicle (one seat behind the other) priced at $6,800 that gets 84 miles per gallon. While that price seems very reasonable, he went a step further and devised a financing plan whereby the purchaser uses an Elio Motors sponsored gas card, and each time they get gas, he charges them three times the actual amount. This overage is applied to the principal cost of the vehicle, making it self-financing.
Alden Kane is a high school senior and student inventor. He’s committed to improving peoples’ lives by combining science and service, and believes that proprietary ideas are the future of science. And so he accepted a challenge to design a “wheelchair stroller” for a local mother. Sandwiching time to complete this between his academic and extracurricular activities, he came up with a novel solution to a common problem for millions of new parents who are confined to wheelchairs. Now he’s looking for angel investors, and a more user-friendly name for his invention.
Sharina Jones was the beneficiary of Alden’s creative genius. A victim of a gunshot wound at age 7, she now teaches people to think beyond the chair, to live past their disabilities and to live a functional life. She sets the example as Miss Wheelchair Michigan in 2011, author of The Life of a Push Goddess, and founder of a charity that brought wheelchairs to Panama. She challenges others to change the lives of one person, a community or the world; and now has a means of carrying her new baby boy with her.
Rita Fields is a professor at Madonna University. But she was once homeless, and eating from a garbage can. Her story of literally bootstrapping her way up from nothing, while raising her son, taught her Leadership Lessons From The Garbage Can. She learned to be resourceful, committed and to practice time management. She encourages others to live with their future self in mind, and to find their inner mentor. Though bad things can happen to everyone, you can still grow through them.
Gary Abud is a teacher at Grosse Pointe North High School. An experience with one of his students taught him what educators can learn from DJs. Both must produce original work, perform in front of a live audience, and adjust their styles to their audiences’ needs. Gary’s five learning themes are (1) DJs compose and conduct very well; thus educators need to create something new and personal to appeal to their audiences; (2) DJs compel the engagement of their audiences; (3) DJs collaborate and cooperate with direct competitors, better known as “coopetition”; (4) music is constantly evolving and changing, and the teaching experience should as well; and (5) DJs create an epic experience filled with images that connect with their audience.
Connecting With Your Big Ideas
The presenters at this conference, while inspiring, represent a miniscule fraction of the market of good ideas. All of us have the creativity and capability to come up with interesting ideas that can add value to one or many lives around us. So how do you connect to your big ideas?
Tap into your life experiences. Reflect on what you have learned, and how your insights can benefit others. Then step out and share it.
Connect with problems that exist in your environment. While each of us will observe problems differently, our perspective on such problems are a key to new solutions and means of addressing them.
Focus on your areas of expertise. The fact that you studied women’s health, are fascinated with the Internet of Things, or decided to become a scientist isn’t mere happenstance. Instead you’ve gravitated toward things that interest you, and your continual exploration and learning in those areas should benefit others.
What do you do next?
In my many years working with leaders and employees, I’ve heard a lot of interesting ideas. I’ve also heard a lot of complaints from people about the difficulty in getting organizations to listen to them or to take action on them.
First remember that ideas need structure. While they may begin as a loose connection of thoughts, concepts or opinions; to be value added they must be subjected to constraints and analyses that fine tune their applicability, attractiveness, cost, and value. Ideas at their best are carefully nurtured by their originator, and when exposed to the debates and critiques of others, are pruned so that the best ones survive. Every new invention, process, start-up, or strategy is improved as the initiator allows that collection of concepts to be seasoned by those who add to their development.
Ideas need the right audience. Trying to convince the wrong audience with the right idea is an exercise in futility. Instead pay attention to those groups of people, cultures, or venues where your idea is naturally valued. Where is the greatest need? You may have dreams of playing to an audience of thousands, but your idea is best valued by an audience of one.
Finally, every idea has its time. The capability for electric vehicles has existed for decades, and even though various automotive manufacturers have produced a variety of models over the years, they haven’t yet caught on with the masses. Sales have continually been below manufacturers’ expectations. But in spite of that, the technology continues to improve, costs are reduced, and one day in the not too distant future, it’s probable that sales will skyrocket.
Your ability to develop a value added idea and influence others to support it determines your effectiveness as a leader. So what’s your big idea worth sharing? And how can it add value to others? What is it that you can’t NOT do?