At its core, entrepreneurship is about creating value.
My passion is to help others get better at creating value for themselves and others, and to help them realize that value is about more than money.
If you’re interested in helping unlock your child’s entrepreneurial potential here are five crucial components.
1. Develop Soft Skills
My business partners and I spend a fair amount of time attending conferences that promote entrepreneurship. One of the most commonly asked questions that we (and other entrepreneurs) receive from aspiring young professionals is “What’s the most important skill I need to develop if I want to be successful?”
When this question is asked, the questioner is typically seeking some sort of competitive advantage through the acquisition of a highly valued hard skill (ie. learning how to write code). In a world where more and more people are stacking up the standard credentials (i.e. college degrees), it’s no surprise that young people are looking to distinguish themselves with useful technical skills.
By all means, we should encourage them in their efforts. What often gets left out of the equation, however, is the critical value of soft-skills. While hard skills refer to measurable, quantifiable abilities like graphic design or data analytics, soft skills refer to more intangible skills like the ability to deal with office politics, the flexibility to adapt to quickly changing environments, or the capacity to effectively sell people on your ideas.
Here’s the one thing that’s most important to remember about soft skills: There is no hard skill so valuable that it can’t be undermined by a lack of soft skills. No matter how much talent, formal education, or technical skill you have, there is simply no way to achieve sustainable success in any endeavor if you don’t know how to get people on your side, build trust, resolve conflicts, maintain a constructive attitude, and think strategically about everyday challenges.
Don’t wait on college or graduation to start preparing your children for the real world. Teach them to work hard on soft skills with the same urgency you’d have if you were teaching math, science, history or anything else.
2. Develop Financial Literacy
Money isn’t everything. I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before, but here’s another one: Money is something.
Many people make the fallacious leap from “money isn’t everything” to “money doesn’t matter.” That’s a dangerous mistake. In order to see why it’s dangerous let’s consider how that same logic would look if you applied it to other things.
“A healthy diet isn’t everything.”
Isn’t the above statement true? Even if you were the healthiest person in the world, your life would be significantly imbalanced if you were irresponsible in other areas of life. What if you were healthy, but also a chronic liar who nobody trusted? Does this mean we should ignore the value of healthy diets? Absolutely not. A healthy diet isn’t everything, but it’s surely something.
“Good conversations with the people you love aren’t everything.”
Suppose you were the kind of person whose life was filled with wonderful conversations with family and friends, but you were completely unreliable at things like showing up on time, keeping your promises, or driving a car without getting into an accident every time? Life would be very difficult for such a person. Does that mean we should ignore the value of good conversation? Absolutely not. Good conversation isn’t everything, but it’s surely something.
Back to money.
Just like healthy diets and good conversations, money is a part of life that will affect not only your choices, but also the choices of those around you. Financial literacy is about understanding how money works and how it affects people’s choices. Even if you don’t care about money, you live in a world where others do. To be unprepared for such a world is a dangerous thing.
The problem isn’t that children don’t care about money. The problem is that we focus too much on money-related terms and financial strategies without first helping them see that money, at its most fundamental level, is about being resourceful with what you have, creative in what you do, and cooperative in how you interact with others.
Money isn’t everything. In fact, money isn’t even what most people think of when they hear the word “money.” Entrepreneurs understand this. Your children should too.
3. Improvisation Skills
Improvisation is a term frequently used by actors and jazz musicians to refer to the art of making things up as you go along. It’s the part of a production when the performers step away from the safety of scripts and sheet music and they start to create their own plots and melodies.
Although we don’t typically think of actors and jazz musicians when looking for advice on how to succeed in school, career, and life, there’s much we can learn from artists.
There are two distinct approaches to career-making: one is scientific, the other artistic.
The scientific approach places emphasis on discovering preexisting facts and choosing to work in harmony with them. The artistic approach places emphasis on making things up. When an artist composes a song or choreographs a dance, he/she doesn’t approach this process in the same way that a scientist conducts an experiment in the lab. The artist is not merely attempting to discover what is real. The artist is trying to create a new possibility. Both approaches are needed and there is much overlap, but the scientific approach currently dominates the way we think about work.
We start with facts and then we try to pursue an educational path that will help us take advantage of the already existing facts. In addition to doing research on what’s already out there, the world needs more people who are willing to create options and opportunities that don’t currently exist. We’re not only free to choose from the menu, but we’re also free to add to the menu.
Conventional schooling often fosters a mentality that focuses on knowing the right answer. Students are so conditioned to be concerned about passing their exams and measuring up to external standards that they tend to focus mostly on answers they believe will be met with approval. Many young people will flat out refuse to try something if they don’t have reasonable evidence that it will work. In many cases, improvisation in the school setting is considered cheating!
Like actors and jazz musicians, entrepreneurs understand that life’s most important challenges require the ability to improvise. Teach your children to respect the knowledge and experiences of those who’ve come before them, but also show them how to value their capacity to make up their own answers and solutions.
4. Learn to Fail Forward
You don’t need to teach your children how to *fail*. Life will do the job just fine. However, you will need to teach them *how* to fail. In other words, you need to teach them how to handle the inevitable reality of failure.
A good teacher doesn’t just challenge their students to think differently, he/she challenges them to do differently. And by “do”, I don’t merely mean solve practice problems, engage in rehearsal performances, or move your body around in the name of doing exercises. I mean take real risks in the real world by making real efforts to create real value for real people in ways that subject you to real failure, real success, real criticism, real praise, real losses, and real profits.
Learning should never be understood as a process that you complete before you act. Learning is doing what you don’t know how to do *while* you still don’t know how to do it. Learning isn’t a safety zone that protects you from failure. It’s a laboratory where you learn how to deliberately experiment with failure as a means of improving your ability to create.
Failure is not the enemy of education. Failure is part and parcel of all forms of progress. We fail not because we’re doing it wrong, but because we’re in the process of learning how to do it right.
Entrepreneurs transform their experiences of failure into ingredients for future success by learning to gather useful information from their unpleasant experiences.
Children don’t need you to provide them with opportunities for failure, but they do need you to show them how to use failure as a feedback mechanism for self-discovery and self-improvement.
5. Adopt a Value Creation Mindset
I once received a invitation to speak at an event that compensated me for my talk and paid for my stay at a beautiful resort. At least half of the attendees were people who are much richer than I will probably ever be. They’re the kind of people most ambitious young professionals want to be connected with.
How did I get this opportunity? Well, I certainly didn’t get it by trying to figure out how to become friends with rich people. I got it by developing useful skills and building a reputation for creating value with those skills. One of the greatest shifts a person can make in any area of life is the shift from thinking in terms of value-getting to value-creating.
Everybody wants connections. There are millions of people who are looking to rub shoulders with the wealthy, influential, and powerful. Do you know what sets people apart and opens doors for them? It’s a reputation for creating value. A reputation that only comes from building an awesome track record for serving others and getting things done.
The greatest networking tool is the substance and skill we bring to our interactions with people. Nothing will take a person further than that.
People invest in character and momentum. They don’t just care about how big someone’s imagination is or how heartfelt a person is. They care about a person’s ability to stick with things, go through things, and get things done. When investors look at startups they care as much about the character of the founders as they do about the quality of the idea.
I say all this as someone who ran a failed tech startup and who spent years getting in front of rich people who had the power to make my dreams come true. I know what it’s like to pitch my dreams to the very people I grew up watching on TV. I know what it’s like to have coffee with people who could have changed my life with one check.
The experience is overrated.
It makes for good stories and interesting speeches, but it really doesn’t mean much beyond that. Having impressive-sounding connections isn’t the magic bullet it’s chalked up to be. If you strive to be a person of substance and skill, you’ll get the connections and they’ll beg to be a part of the interesting work you’re doing.
If you lack substance and skill, the connections won’t matter.
Children are often told “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” To that I add, “It’s not who you know, it’s the value you bring to the relationship.”
Young people are always asking me how they can get their foot in the door. Here’s the secret that entrepreneurs know: The best way to get your foot in the door is by becoming a genius at opening it for others.