Do You Want To Raise Mark Zuckerberg?

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal had an article on how to raise an entrepreneur and they used the same clickbait headline I did, Mark Zuckerberg.  I am all for raising entrepreneurs and I think what Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook is great.  But, I wouldn’t count on raising the next one.  I also disagree with some of the points made in the article.  Perhaps I should write a book about it.

Realize that Mr. Zuckerberg and his accomplishment is a four standard deviation event.  Facebook is not the norm.  Most companies fail.  Many founders are replaced during the lifetime of their company in favor of more experienced people that have previously scaled companies.  Most successful startup companies sell between $20M-$60M dollars.

Try to think of a winning idea.  Now, go do it.  See, not as easy as it looks and generally the first impediments aren’t having enough money to execute

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If you want to raise an entrepreneurial child, you have to do it differently than most of the experts say.  You also have to be bold enough to not do everything your friends and many mainstream parents are doing.  That can be hard.

In this day of intolerance of new ideas, and safe spaces at colleges, we need entrepreneurship more than ever.

When my wife and I decided to send our kids far away to Camp Lake Hubert in northern MN to sleep away camp I remember a lot of our neighbors wondering what we were doing.  In our neighborhood, no one went to camp.

When we moved our kids from a lily white far western suburb of Chicago where diversity was “Are you Catholic or are you Protestant?” to the city at ages 12 and 10, people thought we were nuts.  My kids rode the city bus to school too.

But, it’s not just unconventional things that make your kid entrepreneurial.  It’s how you speak to them and how you let them do things.  Here are some bullet points to follow if you want to raise entrepreneurs.

  • Let them fail.  Help dust them off when they fall. Encourage them to do it again
  • Don’t punish failure
  • Don’t helicopter parent
  • Encourage them to do activities that involve problem solving
  • Keep them off social media for as long as you can, but expose them to computers
  • Expose them to a lot of math.  Make it fun.  Math is about problem solving.  Brilliant can help.
  • Keep the dialogue open.  Don’t be too “judgy”  Explore concepts.
  • Expose them to experiences.  This is one reason I love DabbleKids  Talk about commonality between experiences.
  • Talk about what could be.  Dream about infinite possibilities with your children.  It might not be possible today, but technology is moving so fast it might be possible tomorrow.
  • Play games that encourage them to think, build, and create  Painting, checkers, chess, card games, dominoes and backgammon are great.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.
  • Don’t give them everything.  Make them work for things.
  • In everything, focus on building resilience.
  • Never forget to tell them you love them

There are plenty more.  The WSJ article advises taking a deep dive into computers.  Screens are ubiquitous.  I am hesitant to take a deep dive into the screen not because I am suspect of the screen.  Children need to learn to interact with other people.  Screens limit that interaction.  Children cannot learn to be leaders if they are on a screen.  To become an entrepreneur, you have to get out in the world and experience it.  As you experience it, you find problems to solve.

Everyone wants their child to be a leader.  But, in order to become a leader, you have to also learn how to follow.  At our nation’s service academies, the first thing a cadet learns to do is follow.  By the time they are a senior, they are leading in everything.  As soon as they graduate, the follow again, but get a small leadership role over a cadre of about 12-20 people.  Leadership is a tricky skill to teach and I find that Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success lays out the best principles of success and leadership.  Here it is.

Playing games with other kids and creating things on their own is better at young ages than being in a chair on a screen all day.  They are going to get a lot of screen time at school.  As a young kid, you learn to draw a leaf on a computer, but it might be better to take a walk and feel, touch and smell one instead.

I find that social media for children is a double edged sword.

Try and remember what you were like between the ages of 11-18.  Do you remember any things that you did where you made a mistake like it was the end of the world?  On social media, that gets exploited, shared, catalogued and stays with you forever.

Kids need to be able to make those mistakes.  I think social media can make kids risk averse, not risk loving.  It can drive massive conformity, not diversity.  Risk averse and conforming are not two hallmark characteristics of great entrepreneurs.  Great entrepreneurs tend to go against the herd, and they are very different in some way.

The article advocates setting up a practice venture.  It doesn’t need to be a tech venture.  Junior Achievement and 4H have been teaching children how to run businesses for years.  Kids don’t need do a tech venture to learn how to run businesses.  Lemonade stands, mowing lawns, washing cars, and “regular” things like that will teach kids how to run a business.  They learn to sell, learn to manage money, learn where to invest more money to generate more profit and all the skills that CEOs look at when they run Fortune 500 firms.

One of the most important lessons you can teach your children is to build value.  When they build value, they will become passionate about it.  People say “follow your passion” but that is sort of misplaced.  You may be passionate about fly fishing but it’s awfully hard to build a business on it.  Usually, passion works the other way around.

Becoming an entrepreneur isn’t reinventing the wheel.  As my friend Jeff Minch likes to say, “This generation didn’t invent sex.”  Society has been raising entrepreneurs ever since someone created the wheel.  Entrepreneurs move us forward and the only reason we are where we are today is because some creative, resilient, fear harnessing person came up with an idea and executed on it.

The one good thing about the article I read was it gave me some ideas.  Now it’s time I execute them.  That’s the hard part. Never forget that.  That’s why I respect the heck out of entrepreneurs.