It is the middle of the Summer and most of you have done most of the things on your “hope to do” list. Now what?
Let me suggest that Summer is a great time to start work on a game-changing idea or, what business gurus call, a BHAG. In the past, university students were inspired by stories of entrepreneurs who founded their company (now worth many billions of dollars) in their parent’s garage. They still exist (although the stories seem to focus on people who create this week’s hot app.)
Many groups are looking for people who can offer practical new answers to big and important and old questions: for example,
Some of these problems are math-oriented, since math makes the problem easier to state precisely (and easier to determine who gets the money after solving it). Other questions have been asked many times, because they are important, and they are hard precisely because the barrier which a good answer needs to overcome is not clearly identified. In all cases, if the problem were simple then it would have been solved already.
The fact that it has not yet been solved implies that the experts in the area need a new way of looking at the problem. For this reason, the solutions will be “game changing” (vs. “incremental”); a good answer will change how people look at that question and find ways to answer questions people never thought to ask. This aspect of a BHAG distinguishes a BHAG from homework: homework problems may seem hard to you but there is some assurance that the teacher, at least, knows the answer to those questions.
Lots of people ask lots of good questions. Lots of the answers are awe-inspiring. Some solutions are surprisingly simple:
- Glowing Roads
- 3D Printers for homes
- Google’s Science Fair
- Intel’s Science Talent Search
- or, a Guelph favourite, the lucky iron fish.
If you think that you are already too busy to take on a new mission then consider what some of the award-winning graduates did with their time. So, why can’t you be the next person to do something similar? That is the social value of a good education.