One recent morning as I was dropping off my kids at their regular 4:45 a.m. swim practice, I was really  struck by it: here were a bunch of kids, none older than 16, who were choosing to physically abuse themselves and were actually looking forward to it.  By the time they were done with practice, they were joking with each other, playing around, talking about the weekend, what was going on at school  — real energy and optimism and “Hey, what are we going to achieve today?”

It reminded me of how a 25-year-old teammate issued me a challenge that led to a transformational moment for my company. This is kind of a left turn from my usual post, but the topic has been rattling insistently around in my head like so many anchovy-stuffed olives (my favorite in a martini).

It’s a prevalent theme in my discussions with potential customers: the corporate leaders with whom I regularly speak are tired of the uncertainty in the current regulatory environment, are concerned about growing their business, and want to nurture enterprises that are win/win for employees, shareholders and their communities. But how?  And how to do it better, faster, more efficiently than other well-run competitors, where smart people are asking the exact same questions that you are?

Given that my blog is about demand forecasting software and value chain management, maybe you were expecting an answer pertaining to improved forecast accuracy and everything that entails — closer relationship with customers, expanded uses of external information to more clearly delineate demand signals, better inter-company collaboration — and you would be partly right.

But it is not the only answer.  In fact, true to the very basic tenets of capitalism, it struck me this morning that there is no one right answer. The key is finding creative, individual answers and then executing properly and with conviction. I realise this seems obvious, but I talk with a lot of companies for whom the reality of “getting it right” remains elusive. How do you generate a constant stream of creative, fantastic, bizarre, untethered ideas and distill those ideas into actionable, executable building blocks for competitive advantage?

I think this is one of the forgotten lessons of the dot-com boom and bust. Against a backdrop of new technologies, a large majority of new business were founded on completely new thinking by young professionals. They were founded on great ideas that were unencumbered by fear or reality or personal perspectives of what is or is not possible.  Pundits labeled the era the new Industrial Revolution, and the superlatives didn’t stop there.

However, given the end result at least of the first wave, the potential was never realised because the youthful visionaries had no fear, no sense of reality, nor a grounding in the necessary disciplines that would sustain their vision over time. I’m convinced that the companies that succeed are the ones who find a way to fuse the experience of the “old hands” with the starry-eyed, “anything is possible” optimism of younger employees and business partners.