Raising Entrepreneurial Thinkers: How to help kids blossom & become courageous
Are entrepreneurs made or born?
Most people tend to lean towards the ‘made’ side of the spectrum. Having interviewed several entrepreneurs who themselves are parents, we get to the point in the conversation where this question is asked.
Usually this is where they reflect on what key factor from their own childhood developed the mindset necessary to be successful. There are some surprising items in the list.
Children need time to explore their interests
Time is one of the most common responses. Entrepreneurs know having the space to dive deep into a passion or interest is essential. For those already well into self-directed education with their own children, they comment on the moments between the learning that really stand out.
If we cram their days full, they have no time to daydream or even search for something to occupy their time. Our children might lose a key moment in developing an entrepreneurial skill: seeing opportunities in the world around them.
Some parents even attribute their own great "ah-ha" moments to when they had nothing to do.
They need time to imagine the possibilities, as well as unpack what they had learned or experienced in the day or two before.
Entrepreneurs must manage their own time
This becomes especially key when the child can have a concept of time early on. Parents note one of the important parts of the free time self-directed learning offers is how to manage their own daily schedule.
Not surprising is the similarity many entrepreneurs find challenging when moving from having a job to running a business; the importance of managing their own time.
In a self-directed education model, the student needs to own and manage their calendar. Galileo creates the opportunity for every student to build in ‘the spaces between’.
Students not only have the choice of which learning experience to participate in but to create moments in their daily and weekly calendars to do nothing at all. This level of control over their own day develops the ability to set goals and establish healthy boundaries.
Entrepreneurs have the ability to adapt under pressure
This concept is a tricky one to create on purpose... but plays an important role in developing resilience.
Some entrepreneurs tell stories of being forced to adapt to rapid or unexpected change, others say it was surviving a stressful life event.
Experiences include: moving (often due to a parent’s job), a change in family dynamic, or even an opportunity due to a high level of skill such as professional athletes or artists needing to go away on their own at a young age.
The common thread is the disruption to their life as a factor in developing their ability to adapt to change.
Game play is said to be one way some entrepreneurs pushed themselves to the point of stress (the good kind). Whether it was competitive sports, elaborate role-playing games like Dungeon and Dragons or Magic the Gathering, and of course, video games.
Then there are games that stand the test of time such as the game of chess.
Playing chess has to be one the single most referenced sources of skill development for entrepreneurs.
Award-winning EdTech entrepreneur and South African chess champion Marisa van de Merwe has first hand experience using chess to build key foundational skills for future entrepreneurs... such as spatial concepts, shape recognition, reasoning, and gestalt, (the foundation for problem solving) as well as fine motor skills.
Her program MiniChess teaches these skills at an early age.
The most obvious option to push your child out of their comfort zone is to travel.
When we offer opportunities to explore the world through experiencing other cultures, and the people of those cultures, it broadens a child’s view of their sense of self. They begin to see the needs of others and how they can contribute to the world in a meaningful way.
Robyn Robertson, a former world schooler and host of the popular podcast “Honey! I’m Homeschooling the Kids” credits their experiences traveling the world with a fundamental shift in how they thought about what it means to be educated.
The more they travelled, and the further they removed their children from structured schooling, the more learning they saw.
She said in her interview at last year’s summit that it seemed counter intuitive to teach less so they learn more. But as entrepreneurs themselves, Robyn and her husband recognized it’s in the doing that brings the greatest understanding of any subject matter.
Galileo students get the chance to become ‘virtual travelers' by interacting with students all over the world in real time. And, if given the opportunity to travel to another community or country, our Local Dojos provide a worldwide network of learning spaces using Galileo's learning experiences in real life while exploring those new cultures.
Entrepreneurs are creative
We all know entrepreneurs are creative. But where does that come from? Especially if they aren’t an artist by nature.
Entrepreneurial creativity is more within the way they see a problem. Creative problem solving happens in childhood when they have the freedom to explore a problem without it being attached to an outcome such as a grade or reward. The solution itself is the outcome.
This can reside within any pursuit. Especially if there’s room to revisit the problem until you get the solution you are looking for.
YouTuber and former NASA engineer Mark Rober set out to prove this idea – the idea that when outcomes are attached to rewards or punishment the motivation to continue to solve the problem diminishes.
Galileo learning experiences offer project-based opportunities, very similar to the puzzle Rober created for his test, to inspire students to think and solve problems creatively. There are no grades or gold stars, just the joy of seeing a brilliant solution come to life in its own time. And yes – we love to gamify everything!
A great book for parents to explore for developing opportunities to be more creative is Michael Cohen’s “Educated by Design: Designing the Space to Experiment, Explore, and Extract Your Creative Potential”.
Meant for educators, it show us that creativity is a mindset, not a talent.
Independence with natural consequences
Ask an entrepreneur what they feel is an important skill to develop as early on as possible and you'll hear ‘independence’. This can come in many forms throughout childhood but the more responsibility you can give a child where failure has clear but safe consequences, the better.
These constant experiences of ‘what if?’ builds a predictive mindset. They begin to think through their choices.
Successful entrepreneurs see opportunities because they can play the game of predicting potential success or failure of any given idea.
What would happen if they didn’t wear socks in their snow boots? We can all imagine that outcome.
But what if they stayed up all night to play video games? Would they miss an opportunity the next day by sleeping through it? Would they feel poorly?
The more we can allow them to make their own mistakes the better.
Jodie Cook, entrepreneur, and author of the popular young entrepreneur children’s book series Clever Tykes, notes that her mom had her pack her own suitcase from as young as five or six. She dives deeper into the subject with her co-authored book, “How to Raise Entrepreneurial Kids” that comes with a fantastic accompanying playbook.
There are many options entrepreneurs have cited from their own childhoods such as:
- do their own laundry
- buy their own clothes with a budget you provide
- book their own appointments
- pay for things at the cash register the moment they can reach the counter
- plan part of the travel itinerary and book it themselves... Even if that means you end up at a museum that is closed on the day they chose.
This doesn’t have to be scary. We don’t need to traumatize them, but sometimes disappointment is part of the learning. Autonomy with natural consequences builds independence and self sufficiency.
Have them start a small business
We want to discount the idea of a lemonade stand as so 1970’s, but it is a common childhood experience that many entrepreneurs attribute to their success.
Encouraging your child make their own money is as important to building an entrepreneurial mindset as brushing their teeth is to oral health.
Whether it’s a babysitting gig or mowing someone’s lawn, it is the ‘for money’ part that many parents miss.
A simple lemonade stand, or similar venture, where they come up with an idea and sell if for money they get to keep, is singularly transformative.
We make the how-to of that venture simple with “How to Start Your Own Business” on-demand. Join me live twice a year with other students around the world flexing their entrepreneurial muscles.
So how do you raise an entrepreneurial thinker?
Children are magnificently adaptable, and they will slide into the space we provide for them effortlessly. It’s up to us to create an open, independent, and supported life for that to occur.
With every new experience they begin to build these important skills.
It will become second nature to manage their time, make decisions, adapt to change, solve problems creatively and anticipate the outcome.