“Where others see problems, I see opportunity.”

“Where others see problems, I see opportunity,” said LinkedIn co-founder, Allen Blue.  He said so in quiet conversation and later to a larger audience.  His statement is worth reflecting on.

Allen made his remark first in a conversation I struck up with him at a reception being hosted by the U.S. Ambassador in Amman, Jordan, and, later, during a presentation at MENA-ICT, a high tech conference for the Middle East and North Africa that we were both attending.

Allen was speaking in the context of a discussion we were having about worldwide youth unemployment.  He noted that from his vantage point within LinkedIn, he saw there are still many companies looking to attract young talent.  Not surprisingly, Allen saw LinkedIn as a platform that could play a larger role in matching the need for talent with the need for work.

He offered that he wanted to see LinkedIn attract more members from outside the traditional white-collar skills pool that currently gravitates to LinkedIn.  This would certainly be a disruptive change that could let LinkedIn become an even more central social platform for job hunting and talent recruiting. 

For example, within the construction industry within the United States, there is a dire shortage of skilled labor.  Proactively encouraging those with skills of all sorts, including skilled laborers, to create a LinkedIn profile could make progress in larger ways.

This vision may seem purely self-serving for a LinkedIn co-founder, but, having witnessed first-hand the sort of passion that accompanied his description of a next iteration of LinkedIn, I can assure you that Allen’s vision is one that is genuinely concerned about converting “problems” into opportunities in a global fashion.

We all need to do more of the sort of thinking that Allen is doing.  We need to consider more how to convert “problems” into opportunities.  This will require “disruptive” thinking.

Small Startups Can Be Big Stuff, Especially if Matched with Mentors

Another point Allen mentioned in his discussion of LinkedIn is the ready pool of “mentors” that the network has that could loan crucial guidance to young talent.

Startups don't need to be high tech and huge to be meaningful and important. A startup is important when it lets people follow their passion and make a living at it, while bringing a new product or service to others.  

While walking the conference hall at MENA-ICT, in Amman, I came across a table where a few people people were sharing candy they made, really good candy.  They were having fun doing it and making a wonderful product.  They were still trying to figure out how to expand their market beyond the one they had in Amman, which was already enjoying what they were making.

This candy-making startup shared some chili toffee they had made.  It was awesome.  So think about this.  A few people, who might otherwise be unemployed, get together with a modest amount of funding and create a business making really good candy, something new.  (I’m thinking of their line of a chili toffee they shared!)  

Now, you may already have had such candy, but I assure you, not this candy.  

This is what makes entrepreneurship so special:   it enables people to follow their passions, bringing something new or special to the marketplace - and creating new jobs in the process!  Experienced business leaders could help accelerate this startup and many, many others, as Allen suggested.

Big startups are everyone’s dream.  Small startups, however, can be even more important when they give even more people the opportunity to pursue their passions and make a living in the process.

Another young person there was trying to advance his startup idea of tapping into Gamification to improve workforce efficiencies.  The idea could improve the quality of care in the healthcare industry.  He thought himself limited by geography.  With the right mentorship, as Allen suggested, such boundaries wouldn't be boundaries at all.

Some takeaways:  

1.  We must all think more about how to convert to “problems” into opportunities.  

2.  Improving networking across skill sets would help match more talent to jobs, as Allen's future view of LinkedIn envisions.  

3.  Providing more mentorship would accelerate startup growth and success.  

4.  Even "small" startups have big potential for creating jobs and bringing new and better goods and services to market.

5.  A startup economy may just be one of the best ways of creating jobs and economic opportunity in world where unemployment is endemic.

In short, our future depends on more "disruptive" thinking.
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