I don't own a car. I haven't had one for three years. Before that I had owned three consecutive BMW 530s. Apart from being great cars they were also an important symbol of my success at work I thought. But then I realised that I hardly ever drove a car, spending all of my time on trains and planes. The odd thing about giving it up was not the lack of transport options, but the ego thing.
I was reminded of this earlier this week when meeting up with a friend in his 20's who just sold his business and done incredibly well, and again at the Wired Next Generation event in London. Conceived as an add-on to their existing annual event, Wired brought together a line-up of both young and youthful speakers to share their thoughts on entrepreneurship, creativity, life choices and a whole range of other subjects related to starting your own business. I've heard many of the central themes discussed before at other events, but hearing a teenager deliver the same thoughts was both inspiring and chastening. There are some incredibly dynamic young people out there. Far smarter and harder working than I was at their age. Truth be told, most of them are smarter than me today, even with all my experience. And that's what made me think about my BMW.
Natural disruptive technology
I need to get over the ego thing and accept that the success of people like Nick D'Aloisio (Summly) and Jamal Edwards (SBTV) didn't require help from older experienced heads like me, but the vision to know what they wanted, the brains to know how to get it, and determination to keep going until they've achieved it. I particularly liked Jamal's clarity about 'chasing the dream, not the competition'.
Marshall Davis Jones - one of the other speakers - at the event described teenagers as 'humanity's natural disruptive technology'. It's a simple but great thought. Of course teenagers question everything and often ask why? Why can't I do that? Why does it have to be done that way? The temptation is to shout their voices down or to be cynical about their raw enthusiasm, but it's a mistake to do so. Our businesses need their energy, their passion and vision. The story that Jack Andrata, the teenager that invented a method of detecting early stage pancreatic cancer, shared was an amazing example of this. 199 universities and medical labs turned him away and the 200th let him in. He has subsequently done something incredible. His story of creating the cancer test gave way to an articulate and impassioned plea for cheaper access to knowledge; why is research stuck behind paywalls when it should be sold for 99 cents on iTunes?
There also seemed to be a common theme here about building communities using digital tools. These were more often than not communities of interest built around social networking sites. We were entertained by Daria Musk - live on a Google Hangout - who has built a musical career and 2 million followers on the social network and by Louise Pentland whose sprinkleofglitter website has over a million followers. I also loved the seemingly random but highly energetic thoughts of Gav Strange from Aardman animations and the technical brilliance of Evan Grant of Seeper. These were all people to look to for inspiration.
There was also a greater sense around not following a traditional career path into university, something that's on my mind a lot with two of my kids already at Uni and two more at home to go. The youngest came with me to the event and was really struck by the words of Emily Brooke of Blaze who shared just how scary and hard it was to start her own business, but it was worth it because 'every day she woke up in control of her own life'.
Those words struck home with me, as I too am striking it out on my own again, after almost 6 years at the MMA. I hope I can remember to check my ego at the door and go and take some advice from the teenagers around me. If you haven't got any then you could do worse than book yourself a space at the Wired event next year.
Read more from Paul Berney.