Immigrants and Innovation

Recently I had the great fortune to listen to Olympian Michelle Kwan speak at our shared alma mater, the University of Denver. Kwan’s parents immigrated from Hong Kong to the United States. Her parents sacrificed tremendously and worked multiple jobs to ensure Michelle and her siblings could pursue their interests. Her brother played hockey and her sister was also an ice skater.

Michelle spoke about grit, discipline, and determination. She said she learned to quickly recover and smile broadly after falling while skating. She emphasized that she kept practicing and applying herself over and over and continually learning from her mistakes.

Heidi Grant, author of a Harvard Business Review article titled Nine Thing Successful People Do Differently, indicates that grit is one of the key components of successful people. Grant describes grit as the willingness to commit to long-term goals while persisting in the face of difficulty. Research has demonstrated that people with grit obtain more education and have higher college GPAs.

Forbes reported that 40% of the current Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. Some of America’s greatest brands—Apple, Google, AT&T, Budweiser, Colgate, General Electric, IBM and others were started by immigrants or their children according to The Partnership for a New American Economy. The National Foundation for American Policy reported that 44 of the 87 startup companies valued at more than $1 billion in 2015 have immigrant founders.

Glenn Llopis, author of The Innovation Mentality, describes the perspective of immigrants that allows them to seize opportunities in the global market: Inspiration to see opportunity in everything

  • Flexibility to anticipate the unexpected
  • Freedom to unleash passionate pursuits
  • Room to live with an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Trust to work with a generous purpose
  • Respect to lead to leave a legacy

Llopis is a successful entrepreneur who knows that our thinking evolves when we associate with people who think differently than we do. Cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset to see opportunities others might miss requires each of us to explore, actively listen, and open our hearts and minds to those who bring unique experiences and perspectives.

Through a combination of grit, determination, grace after falling, passion, anticipating the unexpected, and having an innovation and entrepreneurial mindset, we can create significant change in our personal and professional lives as well as our communities and the world.