Real Leaders

Ready to Create Your Future AND Save the World?

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Are you sick of it? Sick of hearing the doomsday scenarios we are machine-gunned daily with by the media. Well, maybe I can do something about that. Over the weekend I was approached by a TV producer about hosting a show about how ordinary people are inventing extraordinary ways to make our future better. If you’ve seen Anthony Bourdain’s adventures around the world in search of a perfect meal on CNN, the show is the same thing except I would be in search of people doing amazing things that are helping to create a future we all want to live in. It will be a tough sell.

It’s long been known that our human brains are far more sensitive to fear than opportunity. So the easiest way to get our attention is to “horriblize” our future.

Seeing The Future

A famous study done in the 1880’s predicted the future of New York would be very… well to be perfectly descriptive… shitty. I’m not kidding. Experts projected the city would grown until it became totally unlivable because of the number of horses would create waist-deep rivers of manure filling the streets and fouling the air that made living and working there impossible. It is easy to see how their mistake about the future could be made.

The people making it lived day-t0-day with the reality of an ever-growing number of horses and their street waste. At the time of their study, they couldn’t even conceive of the advent of the automobile or the impact of mass transit. I am not sure how the dire predictions of the future New York City impacted the decisions of leaders of whether it affected the optimist of people in their daily lives. But one thing we should never underestimate the innovative ingenuity of people like you and me to change the future.

Never Too Young To Start A Business

I just met Jeff, a 30-year old entrepreneur who started a creative agency when he was 16. That’s right, still in high school. He volunteered to be student leader of an anti-smoking campaign that was being run by a traditional ad agency on behalf of the local government.

Although he was passionately anti-tobacco, he quickly saw how lame the campaign was. They had a big event that attracted hundreds of kids just like him, non-smokers and anti-smokers, you know… the non-rebels. So he got this bright idea of what it would take to influence the kids who were most likely to smoke. The kids who aren’t mainstream, preppy or jocks. His brainstorm was that if he could discover what the “other” kids valued that made them want to rebel or appear rebellious, maybe he could connect those values with not smoking.

He also knew that the place to create influence was not through TV ads, but rather where these kids hung out… at local events, parties and social websites.

How To Know What Others Are Thinking

It turns out it’s not very hard to find out what these kids are thinking or what they value… you just need to listen to their voices and their music, which is exactly what Jeff’s army of 20-s0mething employees does everyday. He was savvy enough to convince the local government to give his approach a shot. It worked. This was when he was in high school. It worked well enough to build an amazing creative agency focused only on driving positive behavior changes in youth. He was just awarded a $150 million contract from the FDA to create a national smoking cessation program. That’s not a typo. It turns out solving important problems can have a big payoff.

I also recently met Sarah. Until four years ago, she was an elementary school teacher who’d been laid off several times during California’s budget crisis. One of her trademark lessons was a banner she would hang in her classroom that simply said, “Whatever It Takes.”

Being a Survivor

When Sarah got thrown overboard the last time, she decided to follow her own advice . She founded a nonprofit called WIT (Whatever It Takes). This is a program for high school students to train them in social entrepreneurship and leadership. It earns them college credit.

She teaches them the secrets of how to create a sustainable enterprise whose primary value is helping others. Sarah and her young tribe of entrepreneurs just held a Pitch Competition at the University of California, San Diego. New Enterprises pitched by her high school entrepreneurs included such things as:

  • Prevent Loneliness – a business that connects teens and seniors who feel isolated and alone by doing acts of kindesss.
  • Motivated Parks – a business that builds stronger communities by bringing kids and families together to refurbish neighborhood parks.
  • Bites to Bites – a business that creates a link between local homeless and a sustainable source of otherise wasted food from neighboring restaurants.

These are not just feel good projects. They are real businesses that generate streams of sustainable income and are build quickly to scale to regional or national organizations. Based on her on-going work with high schoolers, Sarah is working on an additional business with a billion-dollar potential that could end up helping tens of millions of young people and disrupt an entire industry. (No, I can’t tell you what that is.)

Those are just two examples of people that might be profiled on this new TV show. The focus isn’t just on entrepreneur’s hero stories, but actually how to do it yourself.

I Do Have Hope 

Every show will also feature a new entrepreneurs’ pitch to the TV audience. Like Kickstarter…if audience members like your “Pro-purpose Business” you could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to take it big. Sort of like Shark Tank for the rest of us…but only for businesses that are solving nontrivial problems. I have no idea if this TV show will become a reality. But, it will be pitched in some major cable networks in the new few weeks.

What turns me on about thinking this way is that it gives me lots of hope. I don’t really believe our world is going to end up like the prognosticators predicted New York City would in 1880. Yes, we have lots of stupid people with lots of big opinions and many, many inept leaders in all our institutions. Yet, we are resilient and creative at our core.

What’s The Best We Can Do?

The world that we have created is not the best we can do. Today we have more bright, educated and values-driven people thinking about how to create the future of sustainable abundance than ever before in history. And while it’s true we may have to wade through a lot of stinkin’… I believe we will get to higher ground.


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