Terminate or Not?
One of the most difficult decisions for entrepreneurs to make is whether to continue a start-up venture. But such a decision is also a rich opportunity. We’ve been struggling with how to engage community youth. Here is part of our story.
We like to share positive updates. When you get to know us, you will also know that we make mistakes. But we try to learn from them. One thing we’ve learned is that failing fast is better than failing slow. Although failing slow is less painful in the near-term, in the long-run it is both more painful and costly.
We have failed both slow (four years) and fast (four months) when it comes to engaging youth in our community. Our latest experience — four months — is the Holland Leadership Challenge (HLC). To understand what I mean, let’s review the why, what, and how of our experiences.
“Preparation for leadership does not come from books. Books sometimes give you an insight or an outline, but real preparation consists of hard work and wandering in the desert, much feedback, much forgiveness, and the yeast of failure” (Max DePree, Leadership Jazz, pp. 42, 43).
HLC was initially proposed by Jeremy Latchaw, our friend and local OrangeLeaf franchisee, to engage youth in our community. The program was framed by Hope College – CFL Consulting team Becca Currey (alum and project leader), Mara Droppers, Ellie McLaren, Stephen Wittenbach and finished by a new team (see below). But HLC is not our first program seeking to engage youth in our community. Why do wish to engage youth?
“Givers don’t wait for signs of potential. Because they tend to be trusting and optimistic about other people’s intentions, in their roles as leaders, managers, and mentors, givers are inclined to see the potential in everyone….The identification of talent may be the wrong place to start….It turns out that motivation is the reason that people develop talent in the first place…” (Adam Grant, Give and Take, pp. 101, 103, 104).
You may think this quote refers to the potential of youth in our community and making servant leadership more interesting and motivating. Yes and no. Our primary reason is to help Hope College – CFL Consulting students discern, develop, and deploy their gifts and calling — the primary mission of CFL.
Our second reason is to help Hope – CFL Consulting student-consultants understand the need and importance of engaging the youth in our community, of having a social awareness and conscience to expand the band.
“A jazz band is an expression of servant leadership. The leader of the band has the beautiful opportunity to draw the best out of other musicians. We have much to learn from jazz-band leaders, for jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals” (Max DePree, Leadership Jazz, p. 9)
That idea relates directly to our faith.
“[The prophet] Amos tells us that leaders should encourage and sustain those on the bottom rung first and then turn to those on the top. Should we call this the trickle-up theory?” (Max DePree, Leadership Jazz, p. 11).
“[The] mystery around potential is so great that even the most perceptive of us cannot look at a person and decide for certain whether or not she’ll be good at this or that, whether or not she’ll become a sales manager or vice president — or even the best shortstop you ever saw. We really should be in awe of human potential” (Max DePree, Leadership Jazz, p. 53).
“We are dealing with God’s mix, people made in God’s image, a compelling mystery” (Max DePree, Leadership Jazz, p. 57).
A third reason for creating HLC is to generate publicity for doing the right thing, hoping to encourage more of this behavior. CFL Social Media Consulting student-consultant Alex Huss in supporting us here. In addition to the above-linked web page, follow HLC on Facebook.
Why? Our entrepreneurial strategy is to show enough progress to attract resources. That is why if we are going to fail, we want to fail fast. Prolonging a program that cannot attract resources is costly.
How does the Holland Leadership Challenge (HLC) help us help Hope students and younger people in the broader community discern, develop, and deploy their gifts and calling?
“Teachers learn more than students, mentors more than mentees, and trainers more than trainees…” (Kerry Patterson et al, Influence, p. 187).
The structure of the HLC reflects the structure of CFL Consulting. Students are assigned to teams based in part on their personality profiles and the teams work on a project for a client. The teams are coached by project leaders and advised by subject matter experts — practitioners from the community. In the case of HLC, the client is KidsHopeUSA, The challenge is to help KidsHopeUSA craft an idea for helping KidsHopeUSA students and mentors stay connected during the summer. In the case of HLC, the coaches are CFL Consulting student-consultants. The director is a recent CFL alum. In short, our approach, if not inter-generation, relies on older peer groups teaching younger peer groups.
But the structure is also different from our first program attempt: LdOut3 (“Lead Out to the 3rd Power”), which we launched in 2009. LdOut3 engaged five Hope College students who trained fifteen 11th graders who trained fifteen 7th graders to create and implement a team-oriented service project. The Hope students, in other words, made a difference in a community unknown to them through those younger students they taught how to be leaders! This cascading approach, in which older students engage younger followers in leadership, reflects the brilliance of an idea created by Virgil Gulker.
It was a beautiful program. And we had strong student leadership. Colleen Leikert Laskowski helped us pilot the program. Reed Swift was our first student director. At one time we had four LdOut3 projects going simultaneously. But to keep it funded, we had to stretch ourselves geographically: we reached out to the Fremont-Area Community Foundation and the Newaygo County Intermediate School District. The program worked…for a while. We learned, however, that logistics can be a very significant challenge.
Our logistical problems were compounded by time: LdOUT3 required 10-12 weeks to complete: 5 weeks of meetings between Hope-CFL and high school students; then 5 weeks between high school and junior high school students; then a culminating event. In addition, the high school and college calendars don’t match — someone always had a day off by design or because of the weather. We couldn’t overcome the distance between us in terms of time and place and after much effort had to end the program.
For four years we struggled trying to make LdOut3 work. And it worked. But it ultimately failed because we didn’t leverage our progress to attract the resources we needed to keep the program going.
In contrast, the Holland Leadership Challenge (HLC) is an intensive week-long program designed to take high school students through the problem-solving process and expose them to social enterprise and college life. They are divided into small teams, collaborating on a project that challenges their leadership skills. As they explore businesses and nonprofits of the Holland area, each team is guided by a college student coach and advised by subject matter experts. By the end of the week, the teams are ready to present their work to a panel of judges.
Challenges to The Holland Leadership Challenge (HLC)
We just got started and we already failed. That is good. Because we are learning. In order of difficulty, here are some of our challenges:
- Recruiting students and designing the program. We planned on 15-18 students, and had to really hustle to bring together half that number. Why did that happen? The order is intentional. Recruiting comes before designing. We failed to engage and follow the advice of engaging student opinion leaders early on to test our hypotheses regarding who to invite, what they feared, and what they thought of the HLC program. This is basic Customer Discovery and Validation work, and should be a prime factor of influence.
“What predicted whether an innovation was widely accepted was whether a specific group of people embraced it. Period. [Everett] Rogers learned that the first people to latch onto a new idea are unlike the masses in many ways. He called these people innovators….The key to getting the majority of any population to adopt a vital behavior is to find out who these innovators are and avoid them like the plague….The second group to try an innovation is made up of what Rogers termed ‘early adopters’….But they are different from innovators in one critical respect: They are socially connected and respected” (Kerry Patterson et al, Influence, p. 148).
“If you are interested in engaging opinion leaders in your own change efforts, the good news is finding them is quite easy. Since opinion leaders are employees who are most admired and connected to others in the organization, simply ask people to make a list of the employees who they believe are the most influential and respected” (Kerry Patterson et al, Influence, p. 152).
- Recruiting donors. The challenge for all social entrepreneurs is to engage consumers, the users of the service, influencers of those consumers, and donors. Our CFL Consulting student-consultants also have experienced this. Graciously, Holland restaurants — Crust 54, Dune Dogz — donated food and the Hope College Admissons Office donated tickets to eat at Phelps Dining. Thanks, too, to Holland/Zeeland Community Foundation, Pillar Church, Ready for School, Ring Cam, and SilkScreen Marketing for providing us meeting space and learning venues. And the Holland Young Professionals for providing us a leadership development grant!
- Recruiting subject matter experts. Another challenge for social entrepreneurs is to engage subject matter experts. Some say one’s networking and emotional intelligence are as important than one’s IQ. There is no reason for someone to know it all and it makes no sense to rely on a single sage. We are grateful for the help of Kylen Blom, Scott Brandonisio, Henry Cherry, Ernesto Cortez, Derek Emerson, Jennifer Fellinger, Russell Fyfe, Raul Garcia, Mike Goorhouse, Wilma Hart, Darlene Kuipers, Jeremy Latchaw, Donna Lowry, Juan Martinez, Lance Pellow, Rob Pocock, Heather Roden, Luis Silva, and Sam Tzou.
I am especially grateful to Coach Jessica Ray (who was one of the LdOut3 college leaders when she was a student) and CFL Consulting students Ryan Havey, Ryan Johnson, Jonathon Maat, and Ellie McLaren for building on the foundation and persisting on the HLC project!
We hope to repeat HLC over and over again. But like all human creations, it isn’t perfect. We will modify it based on the input of our partners, student consultants and project leader, participants, influencers, subject matter experts, and donors. We are confident we can attract more participants because in our trial HLC program the high school students are engaged. Another challenge is to attract donors. As we move forward, this will also be a significant learning opportunity for our Hope – CFL Consulting student-consultants.
Creating and sustaining a social enterprise may be one of the most challenging and holistically educational experiences we can offer.
And if we are going to fail, it’s better to fail fast and learn quickly. That is how successful start-ups like Ring Cam are being built.
“The lore of life, the way to one’s voice, comes more from mistakes than achievements, more from listening than talking, more from these teachers and enablers than from one’s own understanding” (Max DePree, Leadership Jazz, pp. 111, 112).
To see the awesome results of the HLC, click here.
To see a previous CFL Consulting update, click here.
To see a previous CFL Incubator update, click here.
To learn more about CFL, click here.