Growing up, we spend a lot of time being told what to do by our parents. Now, as parents (and grandparents) ourselves, we spend a lot of time telling our kids and grandkids what to do and what not to do. But, have we ever taken a step back to think what our kids can teach us?
As entrepreneurs, we find inspiration in any number of places, so why not our kids? They may lack specific expertise, but they do have a few traits that haven’t been jaded by adulthood, like taking risks, being bold and being assertive. They are also sponges that absorb everything they see and hear, so why not apply those practices to our business lives?
So, here, in honor of Father's Day, are a few lessons kids can teach us entrepreneur dads (and moms) about life and growing our companies:
1. Stay curious.
Kids ask a lot of questions and sometimes drive you nuts! Sometimes, all they do is ask questions. As a parent, I may occasionally find that infuriating, but look at the bigger picture. Why are they so curious about everything? Because they want to learn.
You too should want to learn as much as you can, too. As an entrepreneur, your mission is to deliver something unique for your customers. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you accumulate, the more you'll be helped, personally and professionally.
My son, Tyler, asked me once: “Hey, Dad, how does ink get into this pen?” as he held a regular BIC pen in his hands. At first I thought, “Who would ask such a question?” Then I was suddenly in awe. It was an inquisitive question, and while most entrepreneurs are inquisitive by nature, we don’t ask questions often enough. Instead, we make assumptions, which can lead to mistakes down the road.
In business, change begins by changing the question. As business owners, we should be questioning everything that’s mundane, easy or standard. Never settle for the status quo. That’s when real change happens -- when you think outside the box. It’s the leaders who are the ones who are hungry for more, who question everything and continue to innovate -- that drive the most change.
You may have a lot of expertise and experience, but if you think you know it all, let me burst your bubble, you don’t! Stay curious, my friends.
2. Be a risk-taker.
How many times have we heard other parents describe their kids as fearless? I’m betting plenty. As entrepreneurs, we have a healthy dose of fearlessness, but that is not synonymous with being reckless. It would be a big mistake to confuse the two.
Putting time, money and resources into a business venture that’s about to take off can always be risky, but it’s why you became an entrepreneur in the first place. Risk is always challenging, and you will be faced with difficult decisions along the way, but if you’ve done your homework and rely on your gut instinct, you’ll be confident about the calculated risk you’re taking. Just don’t let fear be the determining factor.
3. Fell off the horse? Get back up.
What’s the first thing we tell our kids when they fall and scrape their knee? Exactly the same thing we tell others on our team when they make a mistake, “It’s okay. Get up!” In life, and business, we’ll stumble every once in a while, and that’s how we learn. If you meet someone who only talks about, “Win, win, win,” you've just met a liar. I don’t care who you are; we’ve all stumbled and scraped our knee.
Sure, it stinks and sometimes it even stings, but guess what? No one died. The world didn’t fall off its axis. Put your pride aside and get ready to learn something after failing. Kids do it on a regular basis, why not you?
4. Don’t judge.
Initially, children aren’t judgmental, unless you give them a reason to be. As a business person, you shouldn’t be judgmental, either. If you’re the CEO of a company, the first thing you need to recognize is that your voice alone isn’t the only one that matters. Gone are the days where the boss’ word was the only one that mattered.
The workplace has changed in the last decade or so, and now we enjoy a more collaborative environment -- where the boss includes the rest of the team in decisions that affect the company. Different opinions -- or differences of opinion -- aren’t necessarily a bad thing. As entrepreneurs, we are already equipped with a certain open-mindedness and have been known to try new things and new ways of doing things.
If you operate your own venture with a “my way or the highway” mentality, you'll be stuck in the Mad Men era. It may have looked great on TV, but it’s not all that great in real life. Don’t be afraid to be open-minded. Your brain won’t disintegrate.
5. Be creative.
I get it, creativity doesn’t come naturally to some people, but guess what? That’s a myth. Everyone can be creative in different ways. Think about when you were little. That cardboard box in your parents’ living room was the coolest fort ever! That laundry basket was the best "boat" you ever had. See where I’m going with this? There’s more than one way to look at things.
Creativity isn’t always about creating something from scratch, but about seeing multiple uses for one idea (or object). This requires little imagination, and while you don’t have to fancy yourself as the heir to Walt Disney, you must feed your creativity by trusting your instincts and doing things in your own unique way.
6. Be social.
Ever watch kids interact at the playground? They have no problem approaching other children and asking them to play or joining the fray themselves. Adults should behave in a similar fashion.
We’ve all had to attend events and conferences at any given point -- ever notice how we tend to speak to the same people almost every time? If you want to expand your circle, make it a point to introduce yourself to five new people at every event you go to. You never know when you’ll make the connection that will help take your business to the next level. Don’t let shyness limit your success!
7. Have fun!
We all like to have fun. You don’t have to be a kid to play hard -- adults can do that, too. When you decided to become an entrepreneur, you wanted to move away from the rigidity of corporate America and spread your wings and maybe even have a little fun doing it. It’s very easy to get lost in the mundane activities of running a business, especially a start-up; but if you don’t love what you do, you won’t be having any fun.
I love what I do, and even if I didn’t get paid, I’d still do it. Whatever your idea of "fun" is, go for it. Do what you love, and do it openly. Your kids can teach you a little about living in the moment and loving every minute of it. Be sure you're listening.