As I have immersed myself into the world of entrepreneurship I have learned many of the tried-and-true mantras used to motivate entrepreneurs. One of those mantras is "fall in love with a problem, not the solution.” This phrase refers to the idea that an entrepreneur should be passionate about the problem than are solving rather than the product they have developed to solve that problem. By being focused on the problem, entrepreneurs are able to be open-minded and pivot, or change their product to the needs of the market and thus be more successful.
After learning about this concept, I couldn't help but thinking about how it applied to the girls I work with. We often ask kids “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “What do you want to major in when you go to college?” We are focused on their end-goal, what product we want them to produce.
These questions seem harmless but they when we start asking kids from a young age what they want to be, they start to defining themselves by their own answers. They start creating a story for themselves that they may feel the need to live up to. Furthermore, these questions start the idea that your identity is composed mostly of what you do for work as an adult. This is not all bad, it is good for children to have goals to work up to and to want to seek work to contribute to society. However, I believe what is more important is that kids find problems they are interested in solving.
We don't know what kind of jobs we need for the future, many of them haven't even been created yet. So instead of talking to girls about the jobs they could have, we should be helping them get interested in the problems that mean something to them. We all know we are more apt to study and be engaged when we are interested in the material. By helping kids find problems they want to solve, they can be open to a variety of classes and professions that contribute to solving that problem. Instead of saying "I want to be a doctor" they can say "I want to help people be healthy." This opens the door for so many other avenues to explore to reach their goal. If you are willing to spend five years of your life working on a problem, it's a good indication it is a passion of yours. But it's okay if your passion changes, ESPECIALLY as a kid!
How can we help kids fall in love with a problem?
We can start by asking them new questions. Questions that challenge. Questions that allow kids to change their minds. Questions that can help kids identify their passions.
“What do you like to read or learn about?”
"What makes your heart break?"
"Is there anything that you do that makes you lose track of time?"
“What are some of your interests?”
“When do you feel like your best self?"
“What problems do you love?”
In the Girls With Ideas curriculum we ask the girls to brainstorm problems in their schools and communities. Here is a list of the categories of problems that we see commonly discussed by girls ages 9-13.
Perhaps reading through this list of problems with a Girl With Ideas in your life will help her identify a few of the problems that she is interested in working to solve. She can then start reading, studying, and working to see if this is a problem she wants to spend time working on as an adult.
Supporting animal shelters
Treatment of animals
Animals that are injured
Animals biting or hurting people
Art supplies for schools
Art programs being cut in schools
Cost of musical instruments
Access to see plays and performances for all income levels
Being a Kid
Not being able to get a job when you are young
People not believing in you
Others teasing you for what you like
Trying to make friends
There is never anything to do for kids
Parents not trusting you
Being too young to do things you want
Parents not allowing you to dress a certain way
Note* Any problem a kid sees can be the idea for a new business!
Earning extra money as a kid
How to open a bank account as a kid
Access to email accounts
How to make a website
How to advertise your business
Lack of activities for youth
Child abuse and neglect
Access to clean drinking water
People who are hungry
Lack of affordable housing
Care for people with disabilities
Quality of public education
Girls being able to go to school around the world
Disparity between students
School dress codes
Too many tests
Not enough classes you like
Preparation for things you want to do after school
Extinction of animals
Pollution (air and water)
Tornados or hurricanes
Mental health issues
Making health care affordable
Women’s health issues
People make fake accounts
Stealing other’s idea
Self-esteem/body issues in girls
Pressure to look a certain way
Local, state, or national laws of interest
Supporting a candidate you like
Not being able to vote as a kid
International relations with other countries
Not* Any problem a kid sees can be the inspiration for a new invention
Opportunities to learn how to code
Finding cures for diseases
Building new programs
Getting internet access for everyone
Access to technology for all students
New forms of transportation (self-driving cars)
What other problems would your Girl With Idea add to the list? Comment below!