About 15 years ago I met a teacher named Richard Ford in a highly frenetic classroom in North York. I was looking for bright young students to design web pages for a project I was working on. Richard called over a couple of grade 9′s and said, Do you guys know how to design a webpage?
No, they said.
Well, said Richard, this lady will hire you if you can show her a sample of a designed webpage by Monday. Can you do that? Uh, sure, they said.
It was Friday.
I looked at Richard and thought…this is the innovative teacher everyone has been talking about? He’s nuts. He’s asking kids to do impossible things they’ll never get done. So, as the kids walked away all excited I said to him, what are you doing? I’m looking for kids who know how to code a webpage. Oh, they will, he said. They have the whole weekend. They can do it.
And that was the beginning of my experience with Richard and his impossible deadlines. He later explained that the biggest problem with education (and, indeed, with our whole approach to teaching, mentoring and working with youth) was that we set the bar too low. All you have to do is set impossible deadlines 3 times in a row and then the pace and risk taking experience will be in their blood.
I thought he was absolutely crazy, and then I saw the results. Over and over I’ve seen him pull a rabbit out of a hat by believing and pushing and challenging young people to go beyond what seems possible. To try something, iterate it and keep reaching for the goal. Set impossible deadlines, expect more than is reasonable and magic happens.
I just spent the weekend with 36 bright young students as part of Selection Weekend for the Next 36. Reza, Ajay, Claudia and their team demonstrated exactly the thing I had learned from Richard. Expect the impossible and you’ll get greatness.
9 teams of 4 students, who were introduced to one another for the first time, as a team, at 4pm on Saturday were expected to make their first pitch (for a mobile app that solves a major problem with a big market opportunity) in front of a room full of mentors Sunday morning at 9am. They all came fully prepared with a problem they were solving, market size defined, a value proposition, basic understanding of the competition, go-to-market strategy, business model and potential valuation 9 months from now when the program is complete.
It’s been years since I’ve seen someone push a group of young high potential youth to their max and it was a joyous occasion. It’s programs like this that give me hope for Canada.
We need to set the bar high. Connect and support those who want to go for it and keep on pushing the limits if we are to achieve greatness as a country. Next36 is a great example of a program that does just that.
As a mentor to a team of students that will be building a business over the next 9 months I’ll keep posting my thoughts on this innovative program. Stay tuned.