The Power of Potential

By QØ Founder and CEO Joshua Caleb Collins

What does it mean to “power potential”? This is Quarter Zero’s new tagline, and it’s something I (alongside my team) have thought about a lot: How can we harness the innate potential inside every human, starting as early as high school?

At Quarter Zero, we create and facilitate experiences that answer this question. Because potential is best powered when it’s affirmed and developed at an early age. And while everyone has the potential to do great things, not everyone has the possibility—whether because they lack the resources, the support, or simply the awareness of what’s possible for them. That’s why we do the work that we do at Quarter Zero.

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We collaborate with young people in high school and demonstrate what’s possible for them by facilitating entrepreneurship and guiding our founders as they build their first businesses. But our goal isn’t to create a new class of startup founders—in fact, we know that many of our alumni may never start and run another business. And that’s okay.

Our goal is to foster, develop, and nurture the innate (sometimes dormant) potential of high schoolers by letting them not only learn about the “real world”, but experience it too. Because to us, powering potential means helping young people see the possibilities of what they can do and who they can become, by providing a framework for solving problems and creating value—no matter what they decide to do with their lives.


At Quarter Zero, we provide that framework through entrepreneurship, but there are many, many ways to power your young person’s potential. And in today’s post, I’m going to share the key insights we have found over the past four years of working with young people. I’ll show you how adults—specifically parents and educators—can play a role in powering your student’s potential.

 

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1. Encourage Them to Ask “Why” Before You Show Them “What”

“Why do I have to learn this?”

Has your high schooler asked this question before? It can be frustrating to hear as a parent or an educator . . . but it’s a fair question. And the answer is often a key component in powering the potential of young people: How does everything young people learn in school actually apply to their lives—to who they will become and to the work they are interested in doing throughout their lives?

When looking to answer your high school student’s "why", it can be helpful to simply start with your own "why"; to do your best to share a story of your own experience. Especially because many young people with potential feel “different” from everybody else—as if they are the only ones who are curious and seeking challenge and change.

We can also let young people have their own experiences, right now. To truly add power to what high school students are learning in the classroom, we have to go beyond the lesson plans and add experience and personal context. This is what motivates young people and answers their “why”. Start with trying to tap into the curiosity of your student. When we let high schoolers explore and experience the “why” behind the “what” that they’re learning every day, we encourage them to continue asking that question. But instead of asking “Why am I learning this?”, they’ll start to ask “Why is this a problem?” . . . and “What can I do to solve it?”

Now that we live in the “age of Google”—at a time when kids can learn only what they need to or what’s relevant with the click of a mouse—high school students no longer need to learn in the same structure and at the same pace as generations past. Consider your students’ “why” before you show them “what”—and focus on what they really need to learn.

[Action Item]

Ask Your Student: Ask your high schooler what they’re curious about, and research ways they might explore that interest right now—whether that’s volunteering for an organization, starting a high school club, or applying for a high school entrepreneurial program.

 
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2. Change Their Environment and Their Experience Sooner Than Later

There are a lot of life experiences young people are told they have to wait and experience later in life: going to prom, studying abroad, and voting, to name a few. Entrepreneurship is often another experience they believe they have to wait to try—after they’ve graduated from college, worked in the “real world”, or raised a lot of money—if they even believe they’ll get to experience it at all.

At Quarter Zero, we show young people that they can be entrepreneurs and solve real problems now. And we don’t treat them with kid gloves, either. We show them that they, in fact, have the potential to be and do much of what they thought they had to wait to do later.

The key with this approach is creating a new environment for them to operate in with the right resources and relationships (to people who are actually doing this work) that tap into the energy, ideas, and potential that already exists within them. With all our programs, we immerse high schoolers in a very new environment with new tips, tools, and infrastructures that access a potential they may have never explored before. They’re also in new cities, tackling real-world problems, and being guided by a group of industry advisors who are talking to them and treating them like the young adults that they are.

This is not just about entrepreneurship either. In a recent study of Quarter Zero alumni, over 86% of respondents said that Quarter Zero’s Catapult Incubator experience taught them a framework to solve problems beyond business and startups. Not every kid is going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook or Spanx’s Sara Blakely, but she can still develop the skills to thrive in whatever she decides to do next—whether it’s joining Student Council, finishing a school project, or starting her first internship.

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Provide a New Environment: It might be a Quarter Zero experience, a science summer camp, or simply changing the way you act around and speak to your kids in the privacy of your own home. Wherever it may be, give your student the environment, the support, and the resources to solve problems and find success in every aspect of their life—right now and when they’re older.

 
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3. Let Them Practice Failing—and Let Them Try Again

There are very few (if any) areas of a high schooler’s life where failure is accepted, let alone encouraged. It’s kind of crazy: Here is this major reality of life and, as an adult, you’ve no doubt experienced it at some level—we all fail, and we will all continue to fail in various ways. The majority of successful people attribute their success to their failures, yet we seem to overlook this imperative and essential life lesson and do not prepare students for failure—or, more importantly, how to recover from it. I think it’s odd that our culture tells youth to avoid failure at every turn before becoming an adult. Wouldn’t it be better to let our kids get the practice in now?

It’s another reason why entrepreneurship is such great experience for real life. There are no answers in the back of the book when it comes to running and launching a business. With that reality comes the necessity to experiment in pursuit of the right answer—with the understanding that one will fail the majority of the time.

When we create startup environments at our entrepreneur programs, it’s essential that failure is accepted—and encouraged. But we don’t say failure is good for the sake of failure; it’s only valuable if our young entrepreneurs learned from the experience. And then, we provide the right support to build them back up—and the framework for them to build themselves up in the future.

We need to encourage our young people to experience failure too, and encourage them to try again. Not in the “rah-rah-motivational-poster”-type of way, but in the real world—whether that’s failing a science test, not making the football team, or building a business that bombs. Let’s show them—perhaps by sharing our own experiences of failure—that it’s okay to not always get it right, especially if it means that they’ve made an effort and are willing to learn from their mistakes?

Whether it’s in entrepreneurship or on a history test, why not encourage the experience of failure and adversity? Let them fail—and encourage them to try, try again. I would encourage that experience over an arbitrary A grade any day.

[Action Item]

Support Their Failure: The next time your high schooler fails at something, talk to them about their experience and offer support for doing better the next time—or trying something altogether different. Let them know it’s okay to fail and encourage them to try again.

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Over the next few months, I’ll be digging deep into some more provocative points of view around education, lack of opportunity (and one approach to fix that), and more—as well as sharing some of the leading-edge techniques we use at Quarter Zero to offer a new environment and a new experience.

Through it all, my overarching message to you is to power your high schoolers’ potential. It’s imperative we show our young people what’s possible for them and propel them to do really great things in the world—whatever those great things may be.

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