The future isn’t coming – it’s here, and it’s young
3 June 2022 at 11:30 am
Future Anything founder Nicole Dyson has gone from slicing pizza and raising galahs to inspiring young people to empower themselves with their own ideas. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Nicole Dyson knows that great businesses have to start with strong ideas.
Her entrepreneurship program, Future Anything, empowers high school students to think creatively about their own futures, and how they might collaborate with others in reaching their individual goals by harnessing their own inspiration.
Since founding Future Anything, Dyson has worked internationally and locally to implement learning that arms young people for the future, via direct learning at secondary level. She’s also founder of YouthX, Australia’s only start-up accelerator program for school-aged entrepreneurs, and was a finalist in the 2019 Business News Australia Young Entrepreneur Awards.
Dyson travels around the country delivering speed mentoring sessions, teaching youth about pitching ideas, and delivering various strands of her youth entrepreneurs program within the school system.
In this week’s Changemaker, she talks about what sparked the journey and how it continues to evolve.
How did you get into the job you’re in now?
I’ve definitely taken the scenic route through my professional career.
My first job was cutting pizzas at Pizza Hut, and I used to hand raise galahs. Like many young people I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life when I left school. After trying a couple of degrees, I packed a bag and moved overseas.
It was my experience working with teenagers at a summer camp in the USA that made me wonder whether I might like teaching. I loved seeing young people do something that they didn’t think they could. So, after gallivanting around the world for a few years, I came back to Brisbane and completed a teaching degree. Then, a number of years ago, I was teaching an all-boys year nine English class when I was interrupted by a student who said, “I don’t mean to be rude miss, but… why are we doing this?” Despite best efforts to fumble a better response, all I could say was, “because, we have to. And, I’m sorry.” But did we? Did we have to?
Despite the relentless efforts of educators everywhere, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with new trends, new technologies and new approaches to learning. Creating new content, or reinvigorating our best lessons is one of the most challenging parts of our profession, and all too often a rather lonely experience for too many teachers. So, I stepped outside of the system to build Future Anything.
Future Anything’s mission is to build enterprising young people, educators, schools and systems. What do we mean by enterprising? [I define it as] “marked by an independent energetic spirit and readiness to action reality”. If we have a generation of enterprising young people that have the skills, support and confidence to creatively and collaboratively solve problems, we’ll all be okay.
What are some of the unique challenges Future Anything faces and how do you deal with them?
I think every business encounters challenges. Initially, you wonder whether the gamble to start something will pay off. Is your hunch that the world needs what you have correct? Then, when you start to get traction, the challenge becomes how you scale in a way that doesn’t dilute your work’s impact or effectiveness. Then, you add in a global pandemic to boot.
I’m grateful to have a strong personal support network, and a number of mentors that both challenge and support me. When in doubt, ask more questions than you answer, and somewhere along the line, you’ll stumble into the right answer for you.
What are some of the things that inspire you as a leader?
I’m inspired by the educators and young people we have the privilege of working alongside. Teaching is often a vocation, and despite increased workloads, teacher shortages, a cramped curriculum, and a host of other challenges, teachers continue to turn up each day with young people at the centre. I’m also continually blown away by young people and their ideas. When they’re provided with the space and support, young people are capable of anything and everything.
What advice do you have for others wanting to make a change?
In our work supporting 10,000+ students a year to launch innovative ideas that make their world a better place, we’ve come to understand that the best ideas come from changemakers that are able to catalyse a lived experience with a personal strength or passion.
The world doesn’t need a generation of heropreneurs; usually white savours riding in to “fix” a problem they know very little about (other than what they’ve read online). Identify a challenge that you have an intimate relationship with – either you’ve experienced it, or witnessed someone close experiencing it – and then use that authenticity to fuel the change you want to see.
Lastly, I would say to hold your problem tightly, and your solution lightly. James Dyson had 5000+ prototypes of the vacuum before he released it – the best ideas change and evolve; using feedback as fuel to be better.
How do you share knowledge with others undertaking similar work, or learn from them?
I am a prolific reader. In fact, in moments of overwhelm and stress, I bulk-buy books. My family will suddenly see a dozen packages rock up from the Book Depository. I’m also lucky to be in and out of schools all around Australia each week, so I also have the great privilege of seeing incredible educators, and school leaders in action.
This work in schools is an incredible opportunity for knowledge exchange. We also have a fortnightly newsletter that we share that captures some of the latest in education, and we’re just about to release a podcast series titled Enterprising Educators where we chat to teachers and school leaders that are enterprising thinkers and doers; exploring their personal journeys through education, and highlighting some of the big and small ways they are building an enterprising culture in their schools, systems or spaces.
How has working in the social change space changed the way you see the world?
Our work at Future Anything is underpinned by our Entrepreneur’s Odyssey. This 10-step framework is the intersection of project-based learning, entrepreneurial pedagogy and design thinking. The final frame in our odyssey shows a young person stepping into the unknown. At Future Anything, we believe that youth-led ideas have the power to bend the future. And, this is so very true of the social change space. Every idea, no matter how big or how small, has the power to bend our future for the better.