Anyone who has been a parent knows that if we pay attention, we can learn a lot from our children. After years of being both a father and an entrepreneur, it dawned on me that most kids are born entrepreneurial by nature. Young children exhibit many of the characteristics that are the essence of great entrepreneurs. So, good news: If you act a little bit more like a child, you might just become a better entrepreneur!
Think Without Boundaries
When my son, Kelly, was about seven, I was having a conversation with a neighbor while he was standing nearby listening. In the course of the discussion, I used the old metaphor about how one can’t tell if a glass filled half way is half full or half empty. My son interrupted and said, “Dad, I can tell if it’s half full or half empty.” My neighbor and I looked at him and then I asked him to explain how. He said, “Well, Dad, if you were filling the glass then it is half full and if you were emptying it then it is half empty.” We were stunned in silence and awe at his elegant solution to this adult paradox. The clarity that comes from thinking without boundaries—without the limitations that others have taught you are reality, just like a young child—is powerful. Some of the best entrepreneurial ideas and innovations come from disregarding what is generally accepted as the way things have to work, and looking at problems through clear eyes.
Fail Fast, Try Again Faster and Don’t Be Embarrassed
Oftentimes, entrepreneurship is all about trying things for the first time. One of the reasons that it is harder for adults to learn new things is that we feel embarrassed when we fail. So we plot carefully before we attempt something new. A child learning to speak is unfettered by their grammatical errors and vocabulary limitations. They don’t hold back and they fail often and quickly. But they also try again almost without hesitation. An adult learning a language holds back on what they will say and tries to avoid embarrassment. When they make a mistake, they often act with even more caution. All of these factors limit the pace at which adults learn. Great entrepreneurs aren’t afraid of, nor embarrassed by, failure. They focus on understanding what they learned from each failure, and they figure out how to improve the next time around.
Ask “Why” Frequently
My youngest son, Kyle, used to drive me nuts. His response to so many every day statements or thoughts was, “Why?” Not because he was trying to be obnoxious, but because he really didn’t understand. I remember once when I joked with my dad that you “can’t teach old dogs new tricks” in reference to him learning something on the computer, my son asked his usual, “Why?” And, to tell you the truth, I really didn’t have an answer for why you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. So, I told him it was just an expression, because it must be harder to train an old dog than a young dog. And he responded, “But we aren’t dogs, are we?” And lo and behold, we are not. Asking, “Why?” and challenging what is generally accepted as the norm or an obvious solution is a key way that entrepreneurs disrupt industries. They do things that the smart people with a long history in an industry have been trained to presume can’t be done.
About the only thing as tough as being an entrepreneur is being a parent. For those entrepreneurs that have their own children, pay close attention and you might just re-learn something that can help you be more successful. For those who don’t have kids, now you have one more reason to borrow your nieces and nephews or friends’ kids. Plus, you might win some brownie points for taking the kids off their parents’ hands for a while, which is a real entrepreneurial win-win!