Most businesspeople can recall the story of their first fascination with the corporate world. Perhaps it was a childhood interest in the company where one of their parents worked, an entrepreneurial spirit sparked by a neighbor’s lemonade stand or a reaction to a “career day” speaker.
My own first “venture” came at age 10. That's when I realized I could resell Now & Later -- a popular new candy at the time -- at school for a higher price than stores charged. So, I saved my money, took the train to the store with the best price, brought the candy back to school and made a nice profit. It was a rush. The trouble came later when my grandmother learned of my operation. She quickly thwarted it and suggested we never speak of it again.
Basketball camp for the business-minded?
Thinking back, I wonder what would have happened had my early entrepreneurial spark been encouraged rather than shut down (under the threat of telling my parents).
If I’d shown a similar early proclivity for basketball, after all, I’m sure I would have been enrolled in countless camps and clinics to develop my budding skill set. So, why should early signs of an entrepreneurial spirit be any different? And why are we afraid to support those signs?
This is a recurring theme I see in parenting: overlooking business-oriented skills such as leadership, independent thinking and creative problem-solving and instead providing advanced experiences in more familiar areas, such as athletics and music.
Business-oriented skills are valuable attributes and, when fostered early, can develop from basic aptitudes into firmly founded skill sets to carry throughout one’s life.
Recently, my daughter wrote in her yearbook that she wanted to be a “marker” when she grew up, which was met with a few raised eyebrows. However, it got me thinking about what I could do to help her hone this interest.
Fan the flame
If parents notice a business aptitude in their child, they can help him or her develop lasting business acumen with these tips:
- Don’t underestimate the child's capacity to understand.
Children can understand advanced concepts such as revenue or profit margin. The key is to start with the basics and incrementally work toward more difficult concepts.
For example, I always do my best to answer my daughter’s business questions in a way that facilitates meaningful conversations. A few weeks ago, she asked, “If I have a product I want to sell to Target, do I pay them, or do they pay me?” This prompted a fun conversation about wholesale versus retail pricing, which she understood quickly and soon applied to her lemonade stand.
- Foster a proclivity for leadership.
Parents can instill multifaceted leadership values in their child from a young age. Share favorite leadership quotes. Talk about what makes a good manager. Bring up less-talked-about leadership characteristics such as humility. These early lessons can have an enduring impact. Richard Branson credits his mother with instilling many of the approaches and attitudes that have led to his continued success as a businessman and investor.
- Put processes in perspective.
Out for a scoop of ice cream? Talk about where the ice cream comes from, how it’s made or how pricing is determined. Even if a child doesn’t grasp the more complex concepts, getting him or her to consider the actual purchase experience, not just the flavor desired, is a great intellectual exercise that will expand that child's perspective and understanding of business concepts.
- Expose your child to mission-driven businesses.
Many childhood dream jobs are based on passions. "Bravery" might equate to a firefighter's willingness to enter a burining building, a doctor's compassion, an artist's creativity or a veterinarian's love of animals. Children need to understand that the same goes for business.
If a child loves animals, for instance, she might enjoy being the brand manager for a pet food company or starting her own doggy daycare business as much as becoming a veterinarian. This isn’t a career path often presented to young children, but it likely represents the most available jobs in the real world. To help your youngster understand the concept of multiple paths, introduce new businesses that align with his or her passions.
My own business aspirations, though initially thwarted, never really went away and resurfaced most prominently in my late 20s. But, now, as I watch my own daughter develop a keen interest in business, it’s made me determined to support her passion.
Being a candy company CMO clearly wasn’t in the cards for me -- but I can’t wait to see what hand my daughter lays down.