Friday, June 18, 2010

Raising an Enterpreneur

Cameron Herold, an entrepreneur who entrepreneur-ed well enough to now coach other entrepreneurs, gave a TED talk on how to help nourish creativity and can-do attitude in your kids (instead of squashing it down as traditional schooling tends to do). I summarized his key points below the video, so you can skip down to those if you are short on time.

I think he raises a fascinating point - that the better you want to do in school, the more conformist you must become. School rewards following the rules, taking what others tell you at face value and, most importantly, believing that whoever wrote a book knows better than you. Looking back on my schooling (in Russia, all of these schooling attributes are taken to an art form. Russian intelligentsia specifically prizes someone who thinks over someone who does... but hey, that's a whole other post), I must agree with him.

I wish, when I was in school, someone had told me that most people (and books) don't really know what they are talking about - or, at least, seem much more knowledgeable than they are. Just because someone dismisses an idea doesn't mean it's bunk, just because something has been printed does not make it true, and just because someone is a grownup in a suit does not give them authority in any subject. And, most importantly, just because no one you know does what you want to do does not mean it's not worth doing. Wombat, take notes.

Key Points for your Entrepreneurial Kid:

1. No Allowance!
Allowance teaches kids the wrong things: get some money just because... or just for showing up. It's limited, like a salary, and determined by your... seniority! You didn't realize you were running your family like a union? Well, now you know.

Instead, have kids propose doing projects around the house, and have them bid - and negotiate - how much they want to be paid for the projects. Help them sell things and toys they don't need. Help them figure out what services the neighbors might pay for. Help them set up a lemonade stand.

This way, they will learn skills that will help throughout life. These skills require much more practice then just taking a paycheck.

2. It's your money. Make it work for you.
Set up 2 piggy banks for each child: one as a "toy fund", from which they can buy whatever and whenever, and another for "savings fund". Take money from the savings fund on the regular basis and deposit it into an investment account.

This will help you teach the kids about investment fundamentals (not to mention delayed gratification skills!) It will also teach them that the amount of money you have is finite. A lot of them (heck, a lot of us) seem to have a hard time getting that.

3. Have kids read you bedtime stories.
A couple of nights a week, instead of reading a story to the kids, ask them to tell you one. Pick a few random objects (a computer... a stuffed animal.... a sock.... and keys.....) and ask them to tell a story involving all of those actors.

You will teach them to make stuff up on the fly. :) No, seriously, this is a really important skill that have saved my personal bottom many many times. Being able to (on the fly, with no prep) produce a well-sounding, coherent and smooth story will help you tremendously in whatever you do.

4. Point things out
When you get poor customer service at a car rental shop, and your kid sees it, point it out. Say "this is a lousy employee, doing a bad job for this business". When you see good service or performance from an employee, point that out too. Let your kids learn what good and bad employees look like. They might have to find some someday.

5. Don't medicate (for Pete's sake!)
Oh, this is my personal pet peeve. Wait, let me get on my soap box. Ahem.

Besides Cameron's points (loads of successful CEOs are bipolar, attention deficit can make it easier to juggle many tasks, etc etc), there is simply no doubt that we are medicating kids that are completely normal. Normal, just not as quiet or easy as we'd like them to be. Don't take my word for it - go read neuroscience papers - and see that when you are popping a brain-altering pill, you really have no idea of just how it alters your brain. What's worse? The doctor who gives it to you doesn't either. Medicating your nervous system is a lot like, um, off-shore drilling: you'd be stupid to do it unless you really, truly, honest-to-God have no other option whatsoever. Climbing off the soap box now. Ahem.


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