"I'm working on a similar idea, but your idea is fundamentally flawed," said the young Hollywood executive. "No one wants to watch a bunch of teens building inventions to change the world."
I smiled at the executive producer who was almost 20 years younger than me. He reminded me of my high school Sadie Hawkins date. He was unabashedly confident, exceedingly well-positioned, and had eyebrows so prominent they practically spoke their own language.
"But your idea is similar?"
"I see," I replied. "The teens in my cast are the young Thomas Edisons of our time. They're inventing new ways to detect cancer. They're building robotic limbs that can be controlled by brainwaves."
Two months ago, I started talking publicly about a concept for a show I'm developing called "Magic Makers." In short, the series is about humanitarian teens using STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) to collaborate and rapidly prototype solutions for the world's toughest problems. The way I see it, the time is ripe for spotlighting the young innovators leading this movement and encouraging people across all generations to jump on the bandwagon. For any long-lasting global change to take place and stand the test of time, the conversation needs to be trans-generational. This means young people need to be a part of it -- not tomorrow -- today.
Last year, the Obama Administration committed $3.1 billion to improve STEM education in the U.S. Will.i.am, a self-proclaimed STEAM advocate, has developed multiple STEAM programs and opportunities for underserved communities. GZA of The Wu Tang Clan recently started a program called Science Genius, designed to teach science to high school students through hip-hop. GZA's upcoming album "Dark Matter" was inspired by his deep interest in quantum physics. When politics and music tap into a cultural shift, compelling storytelling should be next to follow.
"There needs to be more drama, and people need to get kicked off one by one. You need to follow the standard reality TV format," said the executive.
"'Magic Makers' probably isn't the best fit for a formulaic reality show," I said. "There's nothing 'standard' about the cast."
"Yeah. Reality TV might not be right for your brand."
Later that afternoon, I met with another production company.
"We love what you're doing," said the CEO. "And we love how you're packaging it, but maybe you should package it differently."
I started writing something down in my notebook and then looked up to meet his gaze.
"I'm not really sure what that means," I replied. "But I'm open to learning."
"We love the idea of youth working with science and art to transform communities, we just think maybe you should think bigger."
"You mean we should say that if people don't watch the show than we're all doomed when the zombie apocalypse comes?"
"Yes, something along those lines."
An hour later, a talent agent who is probably one of the nicest individuals I've ever encountered in entertainment, sat down with me.
"I know you don't want to hear this, but selling earnest content is really hard," he said, tilting his head to the right with an I-know-you-get-what-I'm-saying look.
"True," I said. "But you know what, half the people who asked me to meet with them this week weren't giving me the time of day a year ago. Now they're calling me left and right, and that's because being smart and innovative is the new black."
"What about doing more on-camera work?" he asked.
"I cringe whenever I watch myself, but I should take more on-camera gigs if and when they're presented.
"You should. It would be good for your brand."
Later that night, I went to a bar in Beverly Hills to catch up with my friend Jason, who was one of the first people I shared Magic Makers with a year ago.
"So how are you? How's the show coming along?" he asked, leaning against the crowded bar of beautiful people to buy us drinks.
"It's been an interesting journey -- up and down. But good things are happening."
"It's never easy," he said. "That's one thing I've learned in this business. Even when something seems like a sure shot, it's never easy."
We sat down at a table and I took a sip of champagne.
"Did you end up going to that digital conference today?" he asked.
"I went for five minutes and then left. As soon as I walked in and saw all the people wearing badges I just didn't have it in me to network. I think I'm getting tired of talking about myself all the time."
"I don't do conferences," he said, raising his legs to rest on the chair next to us. They're for people who don't get any real work done."
I took another sip of champagne. "Thanks. I've been going to conferences non-stop."
"For you, it's great," he said empathetically leaning toward me. "You need to do it to promote your work. For me it's not necessary. I don't care about my brand. I just want to get shit done."
The next day I couldn't help but wonder if I was getting any shit done whatsoever.
For the last six years, my focus or my so-called "brand" has been the convergence of tech and social change. I write about the world's smartest, most connected cities. I write about NASA, corporate social responsibility, education, human rights and social entrepreneurship. However, all of these topics don't necessarily make a brand; they're beats. And, if I I don't state my purpose for covering these beats and what I stand for than all my content creation is nothing more than a selection of words that will get retweeted and shared for a spell, and then ultimately fade away into the nebula of cyberspace.
Lately, I've been so caught up with getting funded and asking for favors that I've been neglecting the lifeline of what inspired the idea for Magic Makers in the first place, which is the power of community and collaboration and the imagination and voices of young people.
So, to get back to the heart of my brand, my purpose, and to pump new blood into the project, I'm concentrating on building the Magic Makers community." This week, we're launching a competition for teens across the country to be in the running to join the brilliant cast, and to share their views on what problems need to be fixed in the world. Only three people will be chosen to be featured cast members, but ALL the kids who submit proposals will be honorary Magic Makers, and will get be a part of our collaborative process when we start filming.
The goal is to encourage youth everywhere to join the movement of young people using their talents to spark change, because the essence of Magic Makers isn't sensationalized drama, and it isn't some flowery, granola cause. It's genius in the making, and it's vital to our country's prosperity and world standing.
Here are a few submissions we've received so far.
Last night, I came across a personal mission statement I wrote while I was in college -- back when all my dreams were still in front of me. Here it is.
I believe in the power of storytelling and creativity done in the name of advancing the human condition. I believe there are good samaritans and change makers all over the world whose stories need to be told for the sake of spreading a social consciousness that connects us all. I believe there are inventors and artists who aspire to make their mark through something deeper than fame or capitalism. I believe there are people who want to absorb stories that provide perspective beyond the propaganda that the mainstream media spoon feed them, and I want to fulfill that desire and inspire. It's my job. It's my purpose. It's why I was put on this planet.
That's my brand and I'm sticking to it. What's yours?