When most kids her age were learning how to count to 10 and color within the lines, 4-year-old Penn was busy learning how to take apart computers and put them back together. The "kidpreneur" went on to found Maya's Ideas, an eco-friendly, environmentally sustainable fashion and accessories line, when she was 8.
In 2011, Penn gained national attention after a Forbes profile on the then 10-year-old and her company. And in December 2013, the teen made her TED debut at the TEDWomen conference. Penn wowed the audience with her impressive business acumen and fearlessness.
It's no surprise that IBM tapped the girl wonder to speak at its Nov. 18 New Way to Work masterclass, which was part of the tech company's campaign to launch its new collaborative email system, IBM Verse. At the masterclass, executives and digital mavens spoke about the changing workplace and what companies will need to do to adapt to it. Penn was given the honor of closing out the event, following speakers such as Contently's cofounder Shane Snow and IBM senior vice president Bob Picciano.
In her presentation, Penn discussed the different ways millennials like her are changing the workplace. By 2025, millennials are expected to make up a whopping 75% of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unfortunately, many companies are lagging behind in adapting to the needs of younger generations. "We need to create an environment where millennials will thrive," said Penn. "For the millennial entrepreneur, that means a more flexible, fun, and engaging workplace."
Many things have been said about millennials and their work habits, or lack thereof, but Penn attributes this to simply being misunderstood. "There are many stereotypes about millennial business leaders, one being that they're impatient," she said. "You can look at this in two ways: We're either really impatient, or you can see that we're really ambitious and eager to grow and move forward."
According to Penn, that combination of ambition and impatience is what inspires millennials to innovate. "Young entrepreneurs like myself are shown to be more open-minded, creative, and willing to take risks that will propel them forward and help their companies and startups blossom," she said.
Penn's life and accomplishments are a testament to the ways millennials are influencing the workplace. She believes collaboration is essential for companies to get the most out of this generation. "Creativity and innovation are cultivated when a company allows their workforce to take risks and be more imaginative in their product development," Penn concluded. "I believe merging some of these principles and working together is what will ignite the way we change the world at work."
It was, in part, with this millennial-influenced landscape and approach in mind that IBM created IBM Verse, its new social email system that's shaped by the way we communicate today. Features include a see-what-you-need design, a mute button, and social apps, all of which are designed to encourage collaboration, mobility, and increased productivity.