March 14, 2009

What I Wish I Knew when I Was 20...

The countdown is on.... Only one month until the launch of my new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, to be released by HarperCollins on April 14. The book grew out of a talk I gave at Stanford three years ago, and was inspired by a list I started crafting for my kid when he was 16... He will turn 20 the week the book comes out. Now, that is a kick! As a teaser, here are the first few paragraphs of the book:

What would you do to earn money if all you had was five dollars
and two hours? This is the assignment I gave students in
one of my classes at Stanford University. Each of fourteen teams
received an envelope with five dollars of “seed funding” and was
told they could spend as much time as they wanted planning.
However, once they cracked open the envelope, they had two
hours to generate as much money as possible. I gave them from
Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening to complete the
assignment. Then, on Sunday evening, each team had to send
me one slide describing what they had done, and on Monday
afternoon each team had three minutes to present their project
to the class. They were encouraged to be entrepreneurial by
identifying opportunities, challenging assumptions, leveraging
the limited resources they had, and by being creative.
What would you do if you were given this challenge? When
I ask this question to most groups, someone usually shouts out,
“Go to Las Vegas,” or “Buy a lottery ticket.” This gets a big laugh.
These folks would take a significant risk in return for a
small chance at earning a big reward. The next most common
suggestion is to set up a car wash or lemonade stand, using the
fi ve dollars to purchase the starting materials. This is a fine
option for those interested in earning a few extra dollars of
spending money in two hours. But most of my students eventually
found a way to move far beyond the standard responses.
They took seriously the challenge to question traditional
assumptions—exposing a wealth of possibilities—in order to
create as much value as possible.

How did they do this? Here’s a clue: the teams that made
the most money didn’t use the five dollars at all. They realized
that focusing on the money actually framed the problem
way too tightly. They understood that five dollars is essentially
nothing and decided to reinterpret the problem more broadly:
What can we do to make money if we start with absolutely
nothing? They ramped up their observation skills, tapped into
their talents, and unlocked their creativity to identify problems
in their midst—problems they experienced or noticed others
experiencing—problems they might have seen before but had
never thought to solve. These problems were nagging but not
necessarily at the forefront of anyone’s mind. By unearthing
these problems and then working to solve them, the winning
teams brought in over $600, and the average return on the fi ve
dollar investment was 4,000 percent! If you take into account
that many of the teams didn’t use the funds at all, then their
financial returns were infinite.

So, what did they do?


N.J.Christopher said...

What activates actions are enthusiasm and creativity. They along with a sense of determination 'create' an atmosphere that nurtures talent.

Cory Levy said...

I recently started an Entrepreneurship club at my high school.

This is going to be one of the activities assigned on Tuesday. Because I have spring break starting that Wednesday, they will have 12 days to complete the project. It should be interesting to see what a bunch of 14-17 year olds can come up with.

Tina said...

Can't wait to see what they do...

Cory Levy said...

I'll be sure to let you know what happens. I am giving them 12 days because my spring break happens to start on Wednesday, therefore, everyone will have the entire spring break to complete the project.

Do you have any suggestions in regards to a way to present this project to a group of high school kids. A percentage of the club members can't even drive yet ;) So the upperclassman will likely pair up with the underclassman.

I love the way you conceptualize entrepreneurship - identifying opportunities and creating value without regards to the resources you currently control. I'm almost confident everyone in the classroom thinks of entrepreneurship differently, so I will try to get everyone on the same page before announcing the assignment.


Jgall said...

This is an interesting scenario. In trying to figure out what the students did to create a profit, with essentially investing no money, I tried to determine what people would want to give me money for. Well, what do I hold within myself that others would want, and pay for. Being a recent college graduate I decided that others would be most interested in my knowledge base. I think this is what the Stanford students did also. The groups determined who had taken certain courses offered at Stanford and created a small tutoring venture. Stopping by lecture halls prior to class starting and making a brief he/she has taken this course last semester and received an A. Posting a note on their Facebook pages, or creating an ad in the Facebook marketplace--all things that require no start up funds. The group(s) of Stanford students then charged those interested a nominal amount per hour for tutoring and pre-exam help, and created money from talents they held internally. The groups could have even gone further in their incentives, offering groups discounts as compared to an individual one on one fee. Plausible suggestion, but I'm eager to learn what they really did.

Englestone said...

I THINK Tina describes in a podcast Stanford Technology Ventures Program podcast a number of things that students have done in approaching the 5$ program.

Link to podcast.

Listened to it whilst sunning myself lying by the pool on holiday.

-- Lee