I recently attended the fifth annual Forbes Women’s Summit: Navigating a New Tomorrow in New York, and had the honor of listening to, engaging with, and being inspired by 300 multi-generational innovators, entrepreneurs and influencers. I am always lifted up by the stories of the diverse paths that women have taken to address problems facing their businesses, communities, and the social causes that they care about. One of things that I look for after I have been at an event is the ‘through line’ and powerful commonalities in what was shared by people who on the surface are very different in their daily lives.
The two individuals who demanded my attention from the onset were 12-year-old Marley Dias, the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks and Lauren Schulte, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Flex Company. Thinking about their personal journeys has reconfirmed some premises I have long held about where we find and harness our own personal power:
That it is about creating power versus asking for power. That power manifests in the form of initially addressing a personal problem and then discovering that the real power comes in transforming that energy into a movement that solves that same problem for others.
It also reminded me that power can exist within us at any age – whether we have yet to enter our teens, are in what society defines as the “prime of our economic life,” or are a modern elder.
At 11 years of age, Marley Dias was, to say the least, a voracious reader. Despite her endless efforts, she found that in most of the books that she read there were few characters like her. Recognizing this problem, she had many paths that she could have pursued, including just solving it for herself. Instead, she decided to solve it for everyone like her and created #1000BlackGirlBooks, a place where “black girls like me can be the main characters of our lives.” The result: the accumulation of more than 9,000 books and a book deal of her own.
Lauren Schulte, the founder and CEO of The Flex Company, was faced with a different problem than Marley, although one that was just as personal. She had suffered for years from painful periods and yeast infections she believed were caused by tampons. She couldn’t understand why none of the established companies were even recognizing this issue and neglecting to innovate on a product category that had not changed in 80 years. Three years ago she took on the challenge herself, and turned her bathroom into a personal R&D lab and innovation center. One year later, she founded her company and raised over $1M in seed capital.
Despite their vastly different backgrounds and the problems they were inspired to address, what do these two innovators have in common?
I can best answer that question by borrowing an idea from another speaker at the Forbes event, Patty Jenkins, the director of ‘Wonder Woman.’ Both Marley Dias and Lauren Schulte chose to become their own Wonder Woman, the hero of their own story who solves not only their own problem, but the problem facing others.
I can appreciate that neither Marley nor Lauren waited for permission to act. They took matters into their own hands and then worked really hard. That’s how I see my technology business world as well. We can all learn to:
- Use frustration as the fuel for innovation
- Focus on a personal problem in a way that it becomes about something bigger than yourself
- Do the legwork, and then find the right allies
- Create versus ask for power
Today, we are redefining power for any age. We can be our own Wonder Woman in the stories that we choose to create. That’s a great lesson from this year’s Forbes Women’s Summit. A lesson I heard loud and clear.