Why environment matters more than talent

Memphis is a city that is bursting at the seams with potential. It has also been called one of the poorest cities in the nation. I personally think some of the greatest potential lies within the education of the city’s youth. I grew up in the inner city where exposure to the ills of the world was as routine as checking the mailbox. Imagine the impact that has psychologically of what your future opportunities and potential may be. Contrast that with exposure to education, business success & travel as well as culture diversity and you get individuals who can see beyond those ills.

“You can’t make people something they’re not, but the right conditions can bring out the best in them. And since most people have way more potential than they realize, they’re often surprised what they’re capable of.”

The quote above is absolutely true for youth and adults. Two institutions stand out to me, Whitehaven High School and Start Co., both of Memphis, TN.

Whitehaven students and alumni call it a community school with high expectations instead of a neighborhood school. Students from different socioeconomic backgrounds mix, share experiential learning and have studies tailored to the way they learn. The end result is young well rounded educated adults with verbal confidence prepared to take on the next phase of life. During the 2015 school year there were $88 million in scholarship offers among 300 students in a graduating class of 448.

On to Start Co. where budding entrepreneurs show up with ideas and are equipped with processes, mentors and seed money to test, validate and scale their businesses through accelerator programs. Being an entrepreneur is not easy and isn’t for everyone but being exposed to it changes you forever. It requires a level of growth and discomfort most people wouldn’t experience otherwise. Like the school mentioned above, it’s about community and culture. A culture of encouragement, calculated risk taking and accountability. Out of that type of environment people rise to the occasion and accomplish unbelievable things. Since launching four years ago, the Start Co. accelerators have graduated 47 teams with a combined capital raise exceeding $10 million dollars creating 450 jobs.

The accomplishments of both Whitehaven High School & Start Co. are the result of what happens when you expose people to the right conditions. Environments that are positive, encouraging & supportive allow people to take risk they wouldn’t normally take. It’s refreshing to see institutions where excellence and effort are the standards instead of lowered expectations. This only happens when leadership shapes and reinforces the culture. If we’re going to see our nation return to it’s glory, It’s time for communities around the country to collaborate, communicate and do more of what’s working!

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