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What Businesses Can Learn from the New Kids on the Block

01/07/2016 15:51

Yesterday morning I sat in a classroom with 30 kids - all 13-year-olds. They were uncannily silent. Along the corridor, in two other rooms, the situation was similar.

It wasn't their reaction to the UK's terrible decision to leave Europe. It was the silence of concentration. They'd just been asked to come up with ideas. Ten minutes later, the room was alive with noise. The ideas had arrived and all hell was breaking loose.

The requested 'ideas' were part of an Entrepreneurs Day I had attended for Form the Future -working with school children to give them an idea of what business is about and to help them prepare for their future careers. Not dry facts and figures but the opportunity to invent products, services, experiences (although we had to help them a bit with those concepts by explaining that it meant things you might want to buy or do, for which you'd pay money).

Watching the kids in action, and working with them to help form their ideas and take them to market (a Fair in the school hall where they had to pitch their ideas to their peers and us, the business leaders brought in to judge) made me realise that this was a microcosm of business itself.

First there was the request for pure ideas. With very little guidance the ideas came forth, but it was clear that some of the children were much more comfortable with what we business people might call 'blue sky thinking' than others.

Then there was trying to pull the team together and work in a coherent way towards a mutual goal. As well as watching how some children fell readily into the role of leaders, there were some future Managing Directors and CEOs in the room for sure, a definite Finance Director and several product designers - it was fascinating to watch the group dynamics.

Those who owned the ideas most closely stayed at the table and worked it through. Those who felt most disconnected, often those who had their own ideas rejected in the early stages, detached themselves from the group and attached themselves instead to their smart phones. The good groups gave the outliers specific tasks to do, and slowly they came back under the wing of the team. The less well managed groups lost half their 'staff' and had to draft in 'freelancers' to help.

In one group a young lad was giving a perfect impression of a maverick leader - inspired ideas (his mobile app won the competition hands down), the ability to think at lightning speed about how to expand the idea and make it work commercially. But he left the table to pace around the room once the idea had been born, leaving his team to try to get on with the practicalities of the pricing and operations approach. A quietly determined girl took over. Joanna Hoffman to his Steve Jobs perhaps.

What was also apparent, when we talked to the teachers afterwards, was that they were seeing a different side to the children than they'd seen before.

Previously unknown artistic talents were revealed. The pacing boy has attention issues - they had no idea he was such a quick and creative thinker. A child with major dyslexia presented his ideas for a new breathable fabric - complete with 'the science bit' and we were all blown away. In business I think we'd call it a 'win win' situation. The business leaders left in awe of the raw talent of the young people we worked with. The children had fun and understood that business can be stimulating and relevant to their lives. And the teachers watched them reveal talents they never thought they had.

If you get the chance to get involved in something similar, I'd highly recommend it.

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