“Lots of people have grey hairs they don’t want and this service would enable them to get touch ups the same time as their haircut,” a teenage girl told me. I’ve plenty of grey hairs and I wanted to crack a joke, but just nodded. The girl was dressed in a business jacket and a conservative skirt and we sat across a table in a wide ballroom at a Holiday Inn. As a judge, I’d been instructed to offer little feedback or questions other than the two that were given to me. The teenager was one of twenty that I judged yesterday as part of the state competition for DECA.

DECA is a vocational training organization that prepares high school students to work in business. It’s a co-curricular class where students learn business concepts as part of school and then compete at events like the one I was a judge at. “It’s really a cult,” a mother helping at the conference told me, “The kids get really into it.” I was there because I care about education and business and the opportunity presented itself through the local Rotary.

I judged entrepreneurship. The teens were given business cases where they had to argue a proposal to me, their business partner. One of the cases was expanding a product or service line for a mobile hair cutting business. Hence, the dye for my unsightly grey hairs. In addition to dye as a service line extension, students proposed make-up, pedicures, manicures, wardrobe consulting, and even facial massages.

I learned a lot in my role. There were many lessons about communication and persuasion. And it was educational to see the different strengths and perspectives that were emerging in each student.

As it pertains to growth, I was playing the part of an investor. The questions I asked concerned risk, constraints, and impact in pursuing a new opportunity. Most students couldn’t conceptualize strong responses to these questions. One teenage boy said, “All the evidence says it should work. It has to work!”

A few students however, were able to consider the question and come up with an answer that looked ahead to what could happen. Flawed plans became good plans.

It happened very quickly, with little effort other than some live contingency planning. But if the situation were real, the extra steps of contingency planning and mitigation would have saved the business and myself time and money.

Featured image is “Mental calculations.” In the school of S. Rachinsky by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky. Russia, 1895. Used under public domain.