Innovation: a Case for Entitlement (really!)

by Deborah Mills-Scofield

Innovation: a Case for Entitlement (really!)  Isn’t it amazing how we complain about our federal government’s lack of guts to do anything about the entitlements and yet we do nothing about it in our own organizations. Have you looked at your own organization lately?  I’ve looked at a bunch of them – and the sense of entitlement, the ‘right’ to not perform because so-and-so criticized my project, the machine was down, the internet was down, the coffee machine was down – is simply astounding! Add in the predominant sentiment that this ‘generation’ is full of indulged spoiled kids who feel entitled to the latest ‘stuff’, being taken care of, passing every course, and getting an award for just showing up (ahem, if they are, perhaps we, the parents should look in the mirror!).

Well, I’d like to challenge orthodoxy and make the case for entitlement as a necessary ingredient for innovation, not a necessary evil.  Let me explain.  I’ve spent a lot of the last 18 months with college kids who are changing the world, having tremendous impact tangibly and intangibly – on their target markets and even on the ‘untargeted’ markets.  Why? Because these kids feel very entitled – they feel entitled to try to change the world.  They feel they have the right to try to improve the world around them! These kids come from affluence, from never lacking for anything, including their education to those that have struggled to get where they are, who are on aid and working to pay tuition.

They don’t feel entitled to stuff or privilege.  What they do feel is entitled to make a difference for others.  They feel that nothing should stand in their way to try to do that.  They understand may not succeed, probably won’t initially, but they have every right in the world to go for it.  Because of their youth and ‘naivety’, they create innovative business models, products, and services through partnerships based on a currency of trust and verification.  They are not constrained by traditional organizational structure and are creating new frameworks for identifying and understanding markets, creating meaningful and appropriate solutions and measuring output and outcome.

Here are just a few examples, though it’s hard to pick:

  • Hip Hop 4, founded by Pierre Ivan Arreola & Emily Goldman: a social venture using Hip Hop to cultivate leadership with at risk youth (in LA and Providence, RI) by partnering with local artists and youth programs employing a multi-sided and revenue generating business model for sustainability. The Formula: Culture + Creativity + Service = Hip Hop 4
  • MED International, founded by Han Sheng Chia & Jayson Marwaha: the NGO assesses the current equipment, clinical needs and infrastructure capacity of hospitals in Zanzibar and ships over the appropriate surplus/used equipment from the USA, such as incubators that are now saving lives.  They created an inventory and maintenance workflow system with the Zanzibar Ministry of Health and have trained technicians to repair the equipment.
  • NBA Math Hoops, CEO Khalil Fuller:  Middle school kids, especially boys, usually hate school but love basketball, so why not use basketball to get kids to like math? NBA Math Hoops is a board game, and app, to do just that.  The NBA gave them a license to all things NBA and Hasbro has donated manufacturing.  Results? Teachers report increased scores and engagement! Not bad.
  • CCChampions, founded by Sidney Kushner: There are hundreds of thousands of kids with cancer in the United States.  Sidney created CCChampions to help them feel like champions during the pain and fear of treatment by creating 1 to 1, long-term friendships between pro athletes and these kids, inspiring them during treatment and helping them feel like champions!  This effort has been recognized by several pro teams, like the Celtics!
  • Lets Be Well Red, founded by Rajvi Mehta: 80% of the people in India are anemic without knowing it, which causes 60-65% of maternal and fetal deaths.  The solution? An iron-rich tasty nutrition bar containing the daily-required dose of iron.  Rajvi created the recipe for the bar that is manufactured in India and uses student and peer awareness campaigns to distribute the bar.
  • GOALSHaiti, founded by Kona Shen: Combining her passion for the people with her love of soccer, GOALSHaiti improves the education, health, and sanitation for over 600 kids and their families (nearly 5000 people in total) in the Leogane region of Haiti.  The program uses soccer as a vehicle for academic learning, community service, and learning healthy living, resulting in leadership.
  • Runa, founded by Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie: An early B-corp, Runa’s story is a favorite.  Using agroforestry and indigenous management and staff, they harvest the Guayusa plant in the Ecuadorian Rain Forest and sell the tea in the USA.  The Ecuadorian division of Runa includes a foundation focused on the education of the farmers’ children.

I am honored, privileged and humbled to work with these young entrepreneurs and innovators. And yes, their academic environment at Brown University encourages this sense of ‘entitlement’ and yes, I am now entitled to work with them; it is addictive.  So, how can we change the definition of entitlement in our world to the definition these kids live? You can certainly spend time with them, because it is contagious.  But til then, look within your organization.  Find the people with passion and excitement about what they do – help them change the definition with you by giving them the freedom, the air cover, the tools, to feel entitled to change their world.

image credit: hiphop4.org

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:


Why am I a VC?Deb, founder of Mills-Scofield LLC, is an innovator, entrepreneur and non-traditional strategist with 20 years experience in industries ranging from the Internet to Manufacturing with multinationals to start ups. She is also a partner at Glengary LLC, a Venture Capital Firm.