Freedom Skate Day 10: Leading the Way into the Future

Sept. 15th, 2010

Some days you wakeup and things go differently than you expect: They go better. Dillon and I woke up at about 7:30 this morning to run into the city and meet a group of visionaries and entrepreneurs who call themselves “The Idea Team.” We went to record the meeting for the documentary. The Idea Team gets together for about an hour or two each week to… well, come up with great ideas. They solve business problems, discuss new possibilities, and produce value out of thin air. I can’t do the meeting justice in this blog post, but I’ll do my best.

I knew I was going to like the group as soon as I walked into the conference room at Sunshine Suites. The group was friendly and interested to hear about my skate across the country. The conversation was casual but deep. We talked about a need we perceived in modern society: a need for people to reconnect passionately to the work of their own hands. We talked about the importance of empowering people to think creatively and independently if you want them to produce their best work and if you want to improve the quality of life for everyone. We agreed: most modern educational institutions do not teach the independent mindset necessary for people to succeed as trailblazers, pioneers, and entrepreneurs. We primarily teach children from a young age that “this is how you are supposed to do it.” Very little value is placed on the importance of overcoming “rules,” of breaking rules, to advance in new directions.

We pinpointed the risk-averse and fear mindset as the culprit preventing so much progress. As leaders, for example, many of us fear giving to much control to followers, because we don’t think we can trust them. Best Buy headquarters proved that to be a false fear in a little experiment called a “Results Only Work Environment.” Checkout this Business Week article to learn more. It turns out that people who are given the freedom to take ownership of their work perform their jobs more passionately and more effectively than those who are not given that freedom. In many respects, the standard manager-employee relationship resembles that of a parent-child relationship, except the parent usually has more interest in seeing the child succeed. The greatest fear ought not to be that newly-freed “inferiors” might behave erratically or uncontrollably; rather, it ought to be that we won’t empower our employees enough for them to benefit us in every way they could.

So what do we still fear? Well, many leaders fear losing control and losing their status as leaders. Sometimes, we falsely believe, that as leaders, people should be following us. The truth is, we should be spurring people on to walk in a direction that will empower them and move everyone closer to the group vision. True leadership that makes a unique and powerful statement has little to do with an egotistical need to be followed by or admired (or feared) by others. True leadership puts the ego aside and focuses on shared vision and giving followers what they need to pull themselves up.

Ultimately, we discovered that what is needed is a social shift. This shift needs to take place at the top, as gatekeepers and decision makers begin to refocus their goals for American education and America as a whole. More emphasis needs to be put on empowering entrepreneurs and independent thinkers, both in the business realm, and the educational realm. But the shift needs to start at the bottom too. Children and adolescents need to be encouraged to think boldly, creatively, and independently, while still recognizing the value of mentors and advice from people who have been there. They need to be taught that the greatest opportunity lost when we don’t try something new is not the actual benefit we could have received, if we had succeeded. The greatest opportunity lost is the opportunity to fail and to grow through our failures! Failure is a funny thing, because we can learn so much through a failed endeavor, but failure also grows our character. When we fail and get back up, we learn that we are stronger and can be stronger than we think we are. Comfort with failure and appreciation for the process of “failing forward” are two concepts that must be taught, if there is to be any sort of entrepreneurial revolution in this country.

Ultimately, everyone in the meeting agreed that true freedom comes when we are able to connect the work of our hands to our passions and take ownership of our own lives. That is what is so attractive about entrepreneurship. That is why, as the Freedom Skater, I’m tying this whole movement to entrepreneurship. I know that the pioneering mindset of the entrepreneur is what is needed most right now, if we are ever to create true freedom in our lives and the lives of the American people.

I want to thank “The Idea Team” for all of the insights they shared today. It was an incredible experience that I will not soon forget. I also want to think Sabir Semerkant, President & CMO of The Vitamin Creek. We were able to interview him personally after the main meeting, and he further explained the importance of removing the fear mindset and choosing to appreciate the journey on the way to success, or rather, choosing to recognize the journey as success.

P.S. For anyone who is not aware: I am hanging out and skating in the NYC area for a couple of weeks to build more support and awareness for the tour and speak at a few major east coast schools. I’ll be leaving from the Statue of Liberty on Sept. 27th to officially start my 3000 mile skate across America.

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