Lately I’ve read and heard a lot about people trying to get others to grant them opportunities.
Some, including myself, have said that publications with homogenous staffs should grant opportunities to qualified people from diverse backgrounds.
Others, like Lean In author and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, have said that women should do what it takes to climb the corporate ladder — even if it means delaying their desire to have a family.
In truth, though, it is no longer enough for people who are underrepresented in corporate America to demand opportunities. In the age of the internet and entrepreneurship, online commerce and international communication, it is time to create our own opportunities.
Gone are the days when individual success was dependent upon entering into a corporate structure.
In today’s environment, the corporate environment is less important than ingenuity and new ideas. Today, unlike any other time in history, it’s possible to create and implement ideas without the benefit of a huge infrastructure.
That means it’s possible to succeed outside the centralized power grid that concentrates resources in the hands of the few. That means it’s possible for anyone to succeed.
By no means is it easy. There is still the need for planning and organization. Smart ideas, vision and drive are still required. But dependence on the largesse of the old boys’ network is not, and that’s a good thing.
Ideas are today’s currency, and good ideas cannot be extinguished by racism, or sexism or any other bias that holds sway in corporate America.
That’s why those of us with ideas have to stop waiting for the cavalry to arrive, stop waiting for someone else to get the ball rolling, and stop holding out hope that some powerbroker will make room for us on the gravy train.
Things are changing. Power structures are shifting. Business models are consolidating. And the smart money is not on those who can predict the future. The smart money is on those who can shape the future. What is that future? Ideas.
The new currency
In Philadelphia, as in other places across the nation, ideas will move us forward, but we must first answer some very important questions.
Are the city’s 40,000 vacant parcels a sign of decline, or do they represent opportunities?
Are the city’s 23 closing school buildings nails in our coffin, or will they form the framework for a stronger educational system?
Will the new property tax system be reshaped to promote true fairness, or will it represent yet another failed experiment in public fiscal policy?
Then, there are the broader questions; the ones that aren’t unique to Philadelphia.
Will the decline of the labor movement primarily affect unionized workers, or will it lead to exploitation across the board?
Will the decline of newspapers simply put journalists out of work, or will it create an information vacuum?
Will our obsession with race and gender continue to distract us from what really matters, or will we finally stop talking and take action?
As important as our answers may be, they’ll only partially determine the future of our city, because once we get those answers, we’ll have to come up with ideas.
Ideas that will turn our 40,000 vacant parcels into attributes, transform our 23 closing schools into community anchors, and train our jobless people to obtain marketable skills.
Today, when the internet makes it possible for us to share ideas quickly, to collect funding readily, to build audience craftily and to take action boldly, why are we waiting for other people to give us opportunities?
What’s your big idea?
We — and I mean all of us, no matter what we look like or who we are — have the chance to create our own opportunities, and I don’t plan to waste that chance.
Twenty years from now when my children ask me what I did when Philadelphia was at a crossroads, I want to be able to say that I was a collector of ideas, a risk-taker, a man who believed that actions speak louder than words. So, I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
In fact, I’m starting here. If you’ve got a great idea to make Philadelphia better — an idea that can be implemented online — share it in the comments section below, and I’ll feature the best of them on my blog next week.
It’s no longer enough to demand opportunities from others, Philadelphia. It’s time to create our own.