Here’s a great story with an incredible lesson in it for those of us who lead students.
A fourteen-year old student named Suvir Mirchandani, came up with a science project that got the attention of CNN and other investigative reporters. What began as a middle school project could actually save the Federal government millions of dollars each year—and all it would require is a simple change to the paper work.
Yep. This one appears to be a no-brainer.
Young Suvir performed a sixth grade experiment on his own school in Pittsburgh. He studied the costs he could save his school by switching the font of the school’s paper handouts, and found he could save the school about $21,000 a year in ink costs by using a font with thinner letters. By adapting the experiment, he discovered that the U.S. government could save roughly $136 million a year in printing costs if it switched from Times New Roman and Century Gothic to the space-efficient Garamond font. Further, state agencies could collectively save up to $234 million annually if they followed the same measure. It’s unbelievable.
When Mirchandani submitted his research to the Journal of Emerging Investigators, it got their attention. “We were so impressed.” said Dr. Sarah Fankhauser. “We really could see the real world application in Suvir’s paper.”
There’s just one problem.
When the government was told about the results, they smiled patronizingly at the kid, gave him a pat on the head and rejected the change. It would be too much work, and they said they planned on doing more digital reports going forward.
Are you kidding?
Too much work? It is a simple change in font. I’m no technology wizard, but I know every department could do this on their own relatively fast and easy. What’s more, our Feds estimated a budget of $1.8 billion for printing in 2014. It’s obviously not all digital. The problem really lies elsewhere.
Four Lessons We Can Learn
May I suggest four lessons established leaders can learn from this?
- Leaders don’t like to be corrected, especially from a young person. Much of the time, we resist change unless it is our idea. Beware.
- Leaders are far too willing to continue spending money when a change like this would communicate they’re willing to save budget dollars.
- Students are often the ones who can see most clearly what changes could improve our lives because they have fresh eyes and ears.
- Leaders need to be encouraging this kind of innovative thinking rather than discouraging it in students.
My guess is, you know someone like Suvir. A kid who thinks out of the box, who may be an outlier or even a source of irritation. A kid who may not fit in. They need our encouragement and permission to pursue great ideas. May this little story be a reminder to you and me as we look for these young leaders.