A good friend of mine recently made a comment about the 20ish age of some of the co-founders of another start-up. The point he was making is that they are successful and will have much success in the future for many years to come provided they have business partners to help them with the business of the business. The desirability of the younger entrepreneurs by investors has been the fodder of many articles due to their tenacious, relentless passion and ability to work well beyond the 60-hour work week. However, my mind drifted into a different place. A different direction.

Why is it that there is an edge based on the age and inexperienced nature of certain entrepreneurs?

My hypothesis is that the same naive nature of not understanding the perils of the business world lend support to innovative thinking. The very principles that protect us from harm, such as learning not to touch a hot stove or place our hands in fire, may prevent us from the kind of thinking that is needed to truly explore the future. Younger entrepreneurs are not as aware of potential problems and often are more free to explore areas others will simply not go.

I’m not at all saying that every venture is successful or it requires a younger entrepreneur in order to find success. However, I think there is an element of that behavior and thinking that should be considered as a best practice when planning a marketing or digital campaign.

In June of 2012, I was tasked with supporting the local PGA tournament sponsored by my company for a digital activation. We were asked to create a mobile experience that would both be impressive and showcase the capabilities of the team and department in 8 weeks. As many people know, the mobile aspect of the activation meant that if we were to submit any apps for consideration to Apple, we could cut that time in half.

If I had a dime for every “this is impossible” or “this can’t be done” or “we’ll never get this to work” I would be a very rich man. Luckily this wasn’t the first or the last time I experienced accelerated demanding deliveries. We did not have time to focus on the negatives or the impossible. We only had time to think about options and what could be done – with little to no budget, of course.

I called in favors with a local agency, traded sponsorship opportunities and white labeled an existing meeting application to create the “plus up” experience our executives were looking for at the tournament. In just 8 weeks we created the first interactive tournament, complete with geo-fencing, gamification elements and a 360 degree view of the game and the course that no other app had been able to do.

The constraints of what we know to be true can sometimes limit our ability to think beyond the impossible. If we focused on the dev time to build an app, we could have lost out on the options to use what already exists with other people. If we focused on the lack of manpower, we could have lost the on-site digital presence or even the command center.

In college when I became a mediator, we called this “expanding the pie.” Too often when people are confronted with obstacles or a problem, they see the situation as fixed and finite. However, sometimes there is another option. There can be more pie.

This is not thinking that comes naturally to most of us, including myself. It takes time to decide to not accept the problem as it appears. Here are some things to consider to help unlock possibilities with future challenges:

Be Patient

Avoiding the knee-jerk, pressured decision making can sometimes allow your mind to simmer on the solutions and think of new options that did not appear right away.

Consult an Outsider / Insider

A fresh pair of eyes on the problem will allow someone with a fresh perspective and perhaps, without your constraints of experience, to assess and think about new solutions.  Offering the problem to other insiders can sometimes offer similar results.

Take Inventory

Who do you know that can help? Who or what can you leverage to assist you? Make a list of all the options you have for developing a team to solve the challenge in front of you.  Never assume you have to be the lone soldier.

Focus on Possibilities

Accepting that failure is not an option and that there must be a solution helps focus you, your team and your company in the right direction. Sure, there will be times that there is no solution and failure is the resulting option – but even then, you will be able to show that your attempts to solve the problem were well beyond the norm.  Additionally, you will have an array of outcomes and alternative scenarios available to share.

 The question What If? on a sticky note pinned to a notice board

With over 11 years of experience working with digital and technology companies, Greg currently serves on the board of several start-up firms and as Vice President of Industry for a digital marketing technology company.  He previously served as a digital leader for the Global eTransformation Team at 3M. Accomplishments at 3M include data analytics and the first interactive PGA tournament. Before moving to this role, he was the Global Lead for the 3M Consumer & Office Business working with brands such as Post-it®, Scotch® and Nexcare™.  He also holds a law degree from Michigan State University College of Law and a Communications degree from Texas A&M University.

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