A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on the roof of my house. I say "found myself" because my decision to climb up there was as spontaneous as it was calculated.
I was playing capture the flag with my daughters, and they'd cunningly constructed a sketchy tower from a grill and other backyard implements. Then they climbed it and hid the flag in the rain gutter. Afterward, they deconstructed the tower and congratulated themselves, convinced that I wouldn't spot it or be able to reach it if I did.
They were wrong on both counts. As I sneaked around the other side of the house with a small ladder and began my ascent, I wondered if I'd be the first guy ever to break his neck trying to teach his kids a lesson about the importance of creative thinking in entrepreneurship. These lessons are highly valuable to me because they aren't going to learn them at school. School emphasizes that you follow the rules, chart a safe, reliable course, and spend the rest of your life as a working professional.
Entrepreneurship starts in the home.
Here are three lessons that will encourage your kids to begin thinking like entrepreneurs today:
1. Everything is negotiable.
My kids know they can negotiate. Everything is negotiable--everything. Since they know this, it can be exhausting sometimes. Like any other parent, I often wish I could revert to being the ultimate authority and have them follow my orders. It would be simpler.
However, this desire supersedes its opposite: I want my daughters to think for themselves. The ability to see the world differently from how they're told they should is a skill as much as a personality trait, and skills have to be taught. Teach your children it's OK to question everything. And be willing to negotiate with them.
I got into plenty of trouble growing up for not toeing the line. But this tendency--aided by parents who treated me as a grownup--became a huge advantage to me as an entrepreneur, because I noticed opportunities and solutions unavailable to those without similar training.
Capture the flag went on for three hours because both sides were continuously thinking of ways to gain an advantage outside the established rules.
When one of us did, we'd come together to negotiate, and then proceed with our new understanding. It was both exhausting and awesome to watch my girls think outside-the-box and reason with the group as to how everyone would benefit when we alter the rules on the fly.
2. Embrace risk.
I've found jaywalking can be a pretty useful example when it comes to teaching my daughters about the art of risk-taking. Most of us are familiar with standing on a street corner late at night. You wait for the light to change to cross. DON'T WALK glares red in our faces, but no cars are coming in either direction, and to disobey the order is perfectly safe.
What's more important, to blindly obey a sign that tells you when to walk, or to be aware of your surroundings and make your own decisions? I recognize--and have taught my daughters to understand--that it's not an either/or scenario. If I had to choose which one to put my money on, I'd choose the latter every time.
This perspective is crucial when you start a business. You have to run the risk-reward calculation in your head, and if the rewards outnumber the risks, venture off onto the path you're unsure of. That path will be a lot smoother if you know the lay of the land. Look both ways, and occasionally cross the street, even when you're told not to.
3. Adults don't have all the answers.
Nothing stunts the spirit of entrepreneurship like a total dependence on authority. At its core, entrepreneurship is rebellious. The most successful entrepreneurs usually strike out at a young age, when their courage is high, their ambition is immense, and they have room to experiment.
My girls love me, but they realize that I'm human. I show them my imperfection by laughing at myself and admitting when I'm wrong. If they think my decision is unfair, I allow them to argue their case. It doesn't necessarily follow that I'll change my mind, but it does habituate them to think their ideas are valid.
It's a valuable perspective for them to have. They know their ideas are welcome, whether they choose to follow an entrepreneurial path or not. This will set them up to be leaders and to help others break free of socially imposed constraints. But I don't suggest that every parent climb up on their roof to achieve this. It's just as easy to do with both feet planted firmly on the ground.