March 14, 2009
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?