Today Afrotech brought in 4,000 diverse people of color interested in changing the world through technology. It is the brain child of Morgan DeBaun, star of the Inc. Female Founders 100.

One of the biggest discussions came from a Grammy-award winning panel featuring rapper Common, producer Karriem Riggins and musician Robert Glasper, collaborators in the new supergroup August Greene. All of them had outgrown their defining monikers, expanding into acting, music scoring, and so on. Glasper shared his own key to success:

Other people don't know what your lane is, so they can't tell you what your lane isn't.

Sure, it's about defining yourself and not relying on the acceptance of others. It also means not being afraid to fail until you get it right - even while others are watching. This challenge becomes more important for minority entrepreneurs who may have a vision less understood by the mainstream public.

What is uniquely yours?

I recently interviewed TED Speaker and RETI founder DeAndrea Salvador. She wasn't focused on engineering, but she saw a need in her community for fair energy use and distribution. That desire planted the seed for RETI, the energy equity company that now educates and spreads insight into low-income communities.

For myself, my deep tech journalism background allowed me to see the holes in how technology served people. I co-founded Cuddlr, lead it to acquisition, and now help other non-traditional entrepreneurs bloom.

Salvador, myself and others had many bumps on the road that could have been avoided by simply "staying in our lane". But staying in your lane only guarantees safety, not success, and sometimes your true success lies well beyond your current comfort zone.

Get comfortable with being a fool

As Glasper mentions, your lane is only defined by you - and, often, is defined by only your own insecurities.  So, the ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable directly dictates your ability to grow.

Serial entrepreneur Naveen Jain said it recently: When you don't know, you can ask dumb questions." And dumb questions allow true breakthroughs. Sitting with Glasper and Riggins, Common shared how coming from a hip-hop background actually helped him make an impact on Hollywood, as he didn't automatically follow the traditional Hollywood rules or pathway. Instead, he questioned long-held beliefs and was able to bypass the classic barriers to success.

So pay attention when a new arena is calling you. It may not be your lane, but it may be the area where you can make an even deeper impact.

Published on: Nov 9, 2018