Here are some lessons I’ve learned about innovation from working with high school and college students. If their passion and enthusiasm is any indication, we have a bright future ahead!

Mentoring is one way that adults and business people can contribute to a student’s development. I have acted as a volunteer judge at Columbus Ohio’s Invention Convention, and at Xavier University’s X-Lab and Miami University’s Entrepreneur Class competitions. I have also been a Junior Achievement advisor to high school students. I find it rewarding to volunteer my time to help encourage young people with their creative, inquisitive and entrepreneurial endeavors. If you haven’t already done this type of work, you really ought to consider it.

I have also learned some valuable lessons from the student participants, which I will share with you with a bit of musical inspiration woven in:

“Passion is No Ordinary Word” (Graham Parker): As in the business world, there is an extraordinary difference between passion and compliance. Years ago, our group of Junior Achievement advisors proposed to our young charges that they might wish to organize a Student vs. Teacher Basketball Game” (how lame!). They countered with a well-reasoned and enthusiastic proposal for a Student Talent Show. The kids took this on as a mission. I was very pleasantly surprised as to its success, as I wouldn’t have predicted it based strictly on these kids’ less than stellar academic standing. These kids conceived of a project that they were passionate about and were fully committed to. They succeeded because they never thought they wouldn’t.

“Think It Over” (The Cars): Again, referencing the Junior Achievement example referenced above, the students had a great handle on a business concept that would appeal to their peers. They really thought it through, and made the proposition irresistible: a student talent competition, sanctioned by the school and run during the school day as an “optional assembly”, with the school providing full A/V support and security. They also decided to sell tickets during lunch period (a brilliant idea, ensuring that all students would have an opportunity to purchase tickets, reinforced by peer behavior). It was a great moment for all of us when we distributed the ticket revenues among the student business “owners.” They really did enjoy tangible rewards of their big accomplishment.

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (The Animals): During a collegiate entrepreneurial competition, one of the teams proposed an idea that I felt had considerable business promise. Frankly, I thought it was one of the strongest basic ideas of those presented that day. Unfortunately, their proposal didn’t gain much traction with the judges. Why? Because the team was comprised of foreign students with limited command of English speaking skills. As a result, their presentation was fairly difficult to understand, which distracted the judges from what I felt were the sound merits of their basic business idea.

How many corporate business opportunities do you see that go nowhere because the internal champion is not an effective communicator?  In this context however, I’m not referring to native language skills. This is an area where many business professionals can and should continually work to strengthen their skills.

About the author

Chuck Frey Senior Editor, founded and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.