There is a part deep inside of me that is old and cynical. So when I find myself inspired by a completely unexpected source, I am tickled.
Last April, I attended one of our local high school's entrepreneurial competition. Entrepreneurialism to me always involved coming up with a new idea (Think of any Steve Jobs inspired product.) However one high school team started its entrepreneurial journey with a basic premise: reuse and reimagine a product, particularly one that others consider worthless. The team's idea won the local high school competition that night and has since gone on to win Incubatoredu's National competition. The idea: repurpose served but uneaten restaurant food (Yes, even the hamburger with one bite out of it).
With this lens in place, I continue to find incredible stories of individuals who see a new world through other's waste. Take for instance, the Harvard researcher searching for a new way to test blood samples to generate more easier and economical fertility tests. She needed blood to build a better test but blood samples for research purposes are hard to come by. Then she realized that blood, actually a LOT of blood, is thrown out by millions of pre-menauposal women each year. The Harvard researcher AND her new business partner (not fellow researcher) established a company to harness and reuse menstrual blood thrown into the trash each day.
In the book, Visual Intelligence by Amy Herman (which I highly recommend) she shares two stories of reusing refuse: CNN Hero Derreck Kayongo who reused hotel bars of soap to first share with his native Uganda, and then start the Global Soap project, and West African artist El Anatsui who creates room size mosaics from metal caps from liquor bottles. As Herman notes, "Everyone's resources are stretched. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing." (p. 264).
I took the question to my business and leadership students to ask them to help me brainstorm what they throw away every day. Some of the ideas that caught my attention were: shower water, coffee grounds, dryer lint, and time spent on Facebook. The students, sometimes, even had potential business ideas for their refuge too. Dryer lint could be repurposed into campground fire starters. Time spent on Facebook could be put to good use if every time you looked, a micro donation was made to a favorite charity. I didn't pay much attention to the paper towel inserts listed on one student's list until I bought an off-brand paper towel that actually only used half an insert in each roll.
Whether you lead an existing organization or want to start a new one, there is much wisdom in Marcel Proust's statement: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Next time you drag your garbage can to the curb, you might want to rethink it. You literally could be throwing out your next big business idea.