Inventive is as inventive does

If the company depends entirely on you — your creativity, ingenuity, inspiration, salesmanship or charisma — nobody will want to buy it. The risk and the dependency are too great. — Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur, CEO, writer and keynote speaker whose motto is: ‘Let’s not play the game, let’s change it.’

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In a Latino enclave off Lincoln Avenue near downtown Buena Park Mall, California, a young guy yells down the phone to a ‘friend’ while holding up an advertising sign. He’s doing the best he can with the skills at hand.

His friend is obviously dissing him for the current job he’s taken on but he’s not buying into it. “What are you doing? Nothing? I’m doing something and someone thinks enough of me to pay for it …”

You have to applaud a young guy who believes in himself no matter what friends say, especially given a few steps down the road there are kids the same age sitting around with their hand out, smoking while they wait for someone to offload their loose change.

On the corner an older woman leans on a stick next to a cart filled with her life’s possessions. She’s also holding a sign, this one promoting her plight. “Homeless, need money for housing”.

Depending where you are in the United States you see these scenes playing out over and over. Those who do, those who don’t and those in dire need. The first and last show real ingenuity, they’re not afraid to try something, anything to help themselves.

It’s these situations that promote such a feel-good factor. Asking the woman why she needed money, Australia’s SBS TV show Front Up sprung to mind where host Andrew Urban would walk up to strangers to ask questions. More often than not he would be rewarded with a rich personal tale.

Abril’s partner hadn’t been paying down the house. After losing his job the truth about where their hard-earned money had been going was revealed. He’d been sending it back to Mexico to fund another family that she knew nothing about. It also went to pay for those frequent trips he needed to visit ‘family’.

At 52, Abril kicked him out after finding out about his hidden life with a Mexican wife and that they never owned their home in Anaheim, it was a rental. Homeless and too proud to contact relatives in nearby states, she’s been surviving on the generosity of passers-by while waiting for ‘public’ housing.

Depending on how much money she collects on the street depends on whether she can pay for a roof over her head in hostels on any given day. She even has a part-time job stacking shelves. Twice a week the local Hispanic grocery store employs her to stock it. She isn’t paid much but there’s the promise of more shifts.

I never expected to hear such a heartfelt story and when I tried to offer Abril a little more than just loose change, all she wanted was enough to buy lunch. That night she was working and the next day she’d be able to afford a hostel room and real food.

I never got to ask the guy with this sign his life story. By the time I returned to the spot where he was standing he’d left for the day but somehow I reckon his tale would have been just as compelling.

It’s stories like Abril’s that really resonate. Back in the 1990s, the SBS Front Up show was a precursor to the best of the reality shows that followed and for me trump even the most interesting social media stories currently doing the rounds.

That said, with print media in Australia, as in the US, going through the biggest shakeup and shakeout in a century, it is social media that is shaping the way news is being delivered and received.

There are so many great stories out there. For journalists wanting to stay in the game and continue to bring compelling real-life stories in real time, their core skills don’t need to change but it’s more important than ever to master new mediums, learn to move ever more quickly, adopt the latest trends in disseminating news and find new ways to get word out.

Like Abril and the guy holding the sign. Believe in yourself, try something new. Try anything as long as it shows promise. Sure there’s a lot to learn to master and the big bucks may not roll in as fast as they did by way of traditional media … but life’s more interesting if you’re on the front foot and able to effect change, even in a small way.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger whose been on a quest for the past year to master the ins and outs of social media in hope the big bucks indeed will start to roll in!