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Quantity Matters, Especially in the Middle

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A mentor of mine – a specialist in change leadership – often liked to remind students, clients, colleagues and audiences alike a truth about change. “It is always hardest in the middle,” she would say. And so it is as we reach the middle of the Ideas phase of the Youth Employment Challenge. 

When the excitement of the beginning wanes and the difficult middle sets in, it is often good to return to our fundamental goal and focus what we’re after. In our case, it is stated in the challenge brief

In the wake of a global economic crisis, rising youth unemployment has reached critical levels that demand our urgent attention. A startling number of 16 to 24 year-olds are facing unemployment, part-time employment or insecure, low-wage jobs. This situation increases instability and cripples economic growth as it limits young people’s capacity to contribute to the economy and society.

Our task is clear: discover a pathway for creating more youth employment so these youth can better contribute to economy and society. So how are we doing thus far? We’ve offered over 60 ideas across six opportunity areas and here is the breakdown: 

Re-imagine Learning   16
Twist What Exists   14
Create Connections   13
Re-think Recuiting   9
Get Back on Track 8
Support Pioneers   4

We’ve thought hard about how youth can acquire the knowledge, skills, and even empowerment needed to meet present and future needs and contribute better to the economy – and society. We’ve “twisted what exists,” with the majority focusing on new ways to transfer knowledge and skills. Then there are the connections. In most cases, this involves leveraging technology to help people find information or one another – be they youth and mentors, youth and resources, and, in a few cases, youth and employers. 

This last connection  - between youth and employers – helps highlight the remaining three opportunity areas. They are those which link most directly to our core challenge, the last step in the employment pathway: finding work (Re-think Recruiting and Get Back on Track) or creating jobs (Support Pioneers). Yet this is where we – collectively – have offered the least number of ideas. 

Granted, in general quantity is not a measure of quality, but what does this tell us? 

First, it is really difficult, especially in the middle, to ideate solutions. Solving or at least mitigating youth unemployment is about creating pathways: About acquiring the skills and knowledge in better and new ways, empowerment, tapping hidden youth assets, and having the resources to access these skills or opportunities. But these stepping stones lead to one of two endpoints in the pathway – finding a job or creating work. Getting hired or becoming an entrepreneur. 

Second, quantity may not be the measure of quality but in the human-centered design process, it is closely linked. By trying to dream up as many ideas – no matter how “out there” they are – we get beyond the obvious, our set ways of thinking, and truly begin to uncover the unexplored, the until now unidentified. This is where innovative solutions are born. 

We need all the ideas offered so far – and more. And buried in the 60-plus ideas offered thus far there are contributions that touch upon the final step in the employment pathway – the job. But we need even more ideas, especially for re-thinking recruiting and supporting pioneers. Change is hardest in the middle and the best response when slogging through it is simple – PERSIST. Just keep on going. 

So let’s go for quantity. Build on the ideas of others. Don’t self-censor. Be crazy. Go wild. The only bad idea is that not uttered. And maybe in that next post is the seed of an innovation that, if implemented, can change the lives of millions. 

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