Inspiring Ideas, Inspiring Women and a Chance Meeting With a Legend

Last week I had the immense pleasure of attending the GE Leading and Learning event for women at the GE Training facility in Crotonville.

I started the event at a dinner where I was halfway through my salad before I realized Jill Ellis, head coach of the Women’s US National Soccer Team was two seats away from me. As a former collegiate soccer player and huge USWNT fan, getting to know Jill personally and diving into stories about her team’s fight for equal pay for equal play was even more of a thrill, as was interacting with the rest of the extraordinary women at my table.

As we rolled into the sessions the next morning, I started messaging my team at home (on Zinc of course) with details about the speakers and sessions. In real-time I was sharing photos and stories of women who have overcome great odds and disabilities to do great things, or simply thought far beyond what was ever deemed possible to build world changing companies. When I returned to the office, I shared in full detail what I saw and learned at the event.

Mae Jemison, physician, engineer, first black female NASA astronaut in space started the day with a quote. “Don’t doubt, dare.” A powerful statement to anyone with big goals and an impact to make. We should all spend less time doubting our abilities and opportunities, and instead dare to simply take action. Often the response and results will surprise even the most skeptical. Mae believes that pursuing a better tomorrow, in her case via space exploration, creates an extraordinary today, and that “the future never just happened, it was created.”

Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Science at CSU reminded us that the world needs all kinds of minds. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, Temple is a “visual thinker.” Her ability to literally see the world differently helps her tune in to animals and what they need to thrive. I share her concern that as we continue to more narrowly define curriculums and activities to meet the current standard of “normal,” we potentially devalue minds that can make an amazing impact on our world.

I told my team how, at 22, Jessica Matthews visited family in rural Nigeria where only about 40% of the people are connected to the power grid and regularly consume toxic fumes from generators used simply to have light at night. Thinking big, she had an idea to put a “micro generator” in soccer balls that harnesses kinetic energy as the kids play with it. By day, it’s a toy, at night it’s used to power light bulbs. Jessica founded Unchartered Play and has recreated this model with jump ropes, speed bumps, and other devices that convert movement to energy. Her products can power not just lights, but full buildings and will undoubtedly bring sustainable energy to places that need it most. I relayed to my team Jessica believes being a woman has actually led to her success, and how she leverages her empathetic feminine perspective to come up with world changing ideas.

The day continued. Hope Jahren, GeoChemist/Biologist, and Author of Lab Girl inspired us to help more girls get excited about science. Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint Water, taught us how perseverance and dedication to an idea can bring strong result. And Haben Girma, the first deaf/blind graduate of Harvard Law School and disability rights advocate had us all passing the tissues. Haben has made a career of suing people who restrict access to inclusion and believes that “when we advocate for small changes, we make big ones.” Her story of overcoming enormous odds and dedicating her brilliance to helping others with disabilities was nothing less than awe-inspiring and invoked a teary standing ovation.

The speakers ended with Jill Ellis, bringing us back to where we started with Mae’s comment about doubting and daring. Jill gave tangible advice on how to “make confidence the louder voice than doubt.”

  1. Be prepared
  2. Lean on your inner circle who will tell it straight (not the internet)
  3. Have a glass half full attitude

She also talked about looking at her team as both groups and individuals and focusing on how making small improvements in every area can make a vast improvement across the aggregate.

The day ended with Jeff Immelt sharing his vision and thoughts on GE and its impact in the world, as well as answering questions from the audience. My personal favorite was when someone asked him how he achieves work/life balance. You have to go to a women only conference to hear that question asked to a man.

I left Crotonville feeling that I clearly haven’t done enough with my privileged life and vowed to try to make a bigger impact. For me it starts at home with my own company.

At Zinc we live by our values. As I was attempting to share the inspiration I felt during the event with the Zinc team, I realized how relevant many of our values are to the success of the women I met.

  •      We operate with empathy and respect for everyone.
  •      We are authentic, direct, & transparent.
  •      We constantly look for opportunities.
  •      We don’t do it the way it’s always been done.
  •      We are brave, we take risks together, and learn from failures together.
  •      We lead, not follow.

If a deaf/blind woman can graduate Harvard law, or a 22 year old can come up with a simple idea to provide light to a third world country, then we all should remove the word “limits” from our thoughts. We need to think bigger about what we as individuals and teams can achieve. We may not be solving world hunger, but every day we live our life is a day that we can make an impact. With this inspiration (thank you GE!) I’m asking not only myself, but my team to raise their game both at work and in life, every single day.