Traveling will help you understand culture and how to change it. Your big idea, however, often comes from your own unique perspective. Bill Gates was exposed to computers very early, so, as Malcolm Gladwell famously described in his best-seller Outliers, Gates knew the need Microsoft could fill. Similarly, my years researching and writing about intimacy and technology, like in my book Porn & Pong, helped me realize the need for my popular app Cuddlr.
Our diverse, one-of-a-kind life gives us insight unavailable to anyone else.
For TED Fellow DeAndrea Salvador, she paid attention to how her relatives in Charlotte, North Carolina kept the oven open during wintertime. It just seemed normal. It wasn't until she got older that she asked - and it became clear that they turned on the oven to keep the house warm. Using the oven was cheaper than using the house's heat and it was worth it to them, despite the inherent danger.
Now, she founded the non-profit RETI (Renewable Energy Transit Initiative), dedicating her life to helping others not have to make that choice between safety and protection. She says, "Energy poverty, also known as high energy burdens or energy insecurity refers to a person or family's inability to afford energy for basic necessities... [often] when someone spends greater than 6% of their income on energy. Much of the issue of high energy burdens is tied to income level."
Use your unique view to contribute
RETI focuses on energy education for lower-income communities, including smart efficiency techniques and government programs. It all originated from Salvador listening to her community, she told me:
I first got curious about high energy burdens around 5 years ago. This stemmed from hearing conversations among my communities (specifically my grandparents and neighbors) about keeping their home at a comfortable temperature. Having done some research and after having the conversations, I learned that millions of people were affected nationally and internationally by this issue. But also during my research, I saw more and more evidence that showed by creating pathways to resources and advocating and sharing information, it can not only help alleviate high energy burdens but result in health improvements as well.
If it wasn't for the family background and objective observing, then Salvador and RETI wouldn't be making a bigger impact to the communities that need it. Diversity is your strength, from idea to execution, as I've shared in a previous column:
If the average founder is likely to scratch their own itch, then successful founders will need a diverse team - if not be part of an underrepresented group themselves - to find niches that are ripe for disruption.
Those of us that don't fit into the Silicon Valley mold aren't at a disadvantage and, in fact, may be at a serious advantage. Keep that in mind as you face friction in making your change in the world.