I had never heard of the term "professional soulmate." But it turns out that while I was spending my formative years coming up with brilliant ideas to change the world, I should actually have been screening my fellow students for their potential as my future business partners.
That's what the founders of "farm-to-table" company Sweetgreen did, while they were students at Georgetown University. Recently, they told us at TEDxDupont Circle, a screening party that streamed the TEDxChange conference from Berlin (with "local voices" afterward), that as an entrepreneurial society, we put too much emphasis on the big idea. They argued that you could have all the best ideas in the world, but it takes a synergistic partnership to make it happen. As they said, Ben and Jerry didn't become big because of Chunky Monkey. (Not that I'm suggesting that flavor is the best idea in the world, though it's not unpleasant...)
The conference wasn't specifically about partnerships, but it really drove home the message -- finding the right partners is critical to success. I liked hearing about designer Jeff Chapin's partnership with a non-profit organization to design low-cost latrines that people really want, with huge potential impact on sanitation and health in the world's poorest countries. It was intriguing to think of how aesthetics can play such a central role in the success of public health measures. Then Theo Sowa made a thought provoking presentation about how interventions to empower African women keep making the mistake of conceptualizing these women as "victims" who need to have things done to help them, rather than recognizing their leadership and partnering with them to deliver change.
Bill and Melinda Gates are surely each others' professional soulmates. The TEDxChange chair noted that their Foundation has become the biggest change agent in the world outside of government. This conference launched their 'no controversy' campaign to catalyze the leadership needed to increase access to contraception in low and middle income countries. I suspect it will get results.
In the meantime, there may be a gap in the market for professionalsoulmate.com ...
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