Kids and budding entrepreneurs have something in common. Much of what every kid would ideally learn in school is, in part, a working familiarity with the same attitudes, approaches and outlooks that we try to instill in our aspiring 1871 entrepreneurs as a lasting part of their overall experience with us.
Today, there's no question that we absorb a great deal through indirect lateral learning, (Related: When to Steal from Other Founders) which comes principally from our observations of the trials, tribulations, successes and failures of those around us engaged in similar or parallel activities. Not only does misery love company; the fact is that the cheapest and least painful education available today is making sure that you don't repeat someone else's mistakes while you're building your business. In addition, peer-to-peer communications are a constant and growing part of our lives. We learn every day directly from each other and from others across the globe.
When you combine these knowledge sources with the many readily available independent media and content channels, it's increasingly clear that most of us are learning as much or more from the digital universe as from any traditional and/or formal education programs. That will be even truer in the future.
And, although the debate continues to rage as to which startup skills can be taught, it's very clear that a great deal can be learned by new business builders who immerse themselves in the critical and creative entrepreneurial mass that an incubator like 1871 provides. That's especially true when component parts of the startup ecosystem reside locally: including hundreds of other new entrepreneurs, universities, VCs, experienced serial entrepreneurs and committed mentors, angel investors, city and state representatives, substantial educational resources, alumni businesses, etc.
But we need to figure out exactly how to make sure that the policies and programs in our schools are designed and organized in ways which help our kids learn these same entrepreneurial life skills as early and as fully as possible. It's not about filling their heads with ancient philosophies and rote facts; it's about filling their hearts with a passion for learning and the desire to make a difference - to make their efforts and their lives meaningful -; both in the near term and in the long run. And it's a process which can't be started too soon.
Here are the top 10 "need to knows" on my list and a brief comment on each:
1. You Get What You Work for, Not What You Wish for
In the real world, effort trumps talent; inspiration without execution means nothing. Our attitude is that, while we may not always outsmart the other guys, we will always out-prepare and outwork them.
2. Keep Raising the Bar
Successive approximation beats postponed perfection. You get better by getting better and you do that by constantly raising the bar and iterating like mad. In a world of fast followers and global competition, we want to always be on the move and moving forward.
3. Shoot for the Stars
If you don't ask, you never get. Someone is gonna be first and grab the best seat in the house and it might as well be you. But you won't get it if you don't go for it. As Michael Jordan said: you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. If you don't bother to ask, the answer's always "No".
4. Don't Sell Yourself Short
There are always plenty of people who will tell you why you can't do something - mainly because they haven't tried or couldn't do it themselves. Don't allow yourself to be defined or constrained by other people's limitations. Ya never know whether you can do it until you try. Every day the people who are doing it are blowing by the ones who insist that it can't be done.
5. Start Now with What You Have
Waiting for the perfect moment and the stars to align won't get you anywhere. Waiting for a schedule or permission will get you left in the dust by the people who are just getting out there and getting things done. Nothing will ever get done if every objection and problem needs to be resolved before you start. The time will never be just right, but the time to start is always "now".
6. Nobody Said Life was Fair
Sometimes things just don't work out. The best entrepreneurs understand that no one makes all the right choices or decisions - the trick is to learn from all of them - good or bad - and to learn not to repeat your mistakes. And, while hard work is necessary for success, it's not sufficient in itself or any certain guarantee. Luck, timing, tools, the quality and commitment of your team, etc. - all of these are success factors. And even when everything aligns, there are still too many instances to count where the world seems to have conspired to kill your dream. This is why resilience and the ability to get over the past and get on with the future are just as crucial as the perseverance that it often takes to stick with your idea through thick and thin. Fall down three times; get up four times.
7. Never Play the Blame Game
People can always find an excuse or blame their circumstances for why things didn't happen or work out the way they hoped. But the ones who will always succeed are the ones who take whatever they are handed and make those conditions and constraints work. Hoping for something better isn't an effective strategy - it's just a formula for further disappointment. When you start blaming others for your problems, you give up your power and the ability to make critical changes.
8. It's Only a "No" for Now
Winners keep pressing and never take "No" for a final answer - just an opportunity to try harder, even if it's on the next idea. Excellence and real results are always based ultimately in perseverance - sticking around long enough so that even if you can't win them over, at least you will eventually wear down their resistance. There are no shortcuts or tricks to make the path easier and there's no finish line either.
9. Sometimes the Baby Just is Ugly
By the same token, don't confuse energy wasting with perseverance. Kids who think they'll live forever (and are frankly too young to even understand the consequences of their actions) have no concept of opportunity costs or the fact that your time is probably the scarcest resource you have. Sadly, it's often the same kind of problem with passionate, but inexperienced young entrepreneurs. They stick with things way too long and end up beating a dead horse when they should be moving on. They regularly forget the first rule of holes: when you're in one, stop digging.
10. Make Something that Makes a Difference
It's hard to get out of your own head when you're young, but it's never too early to explain the value of being connected to something - a cause, an idea, a team, etc. - that's bigger than yourself. At 1871, we say that you can't be in this for the money - it's just too hard and it's really not about making money or even about making a living. It's about making a life worth living and one that makes a difference and a contribution to others.