Anyone can be a successful entrepreneur, and parenting has a direct influence on a child's capability and eventual work force longevity. Those are bold statements, considering the high failure rate of entrepreneurs. Jen Prosek, founder and CEO of PR firm Prosek Partners, is a successful entrepreneur. Her brother, James, entrepreneured his own success as a writer and artist. Having been asked "what did your parents do to raise entrepreneurs?" multiple times over the years, the PR executive, now a parent herself, set out to answer that question.
"My first baby was my business. In 2007, I had an actual baby and I thought, 'What kind of a person are we making?'" says Prosek. The entrepreneur teamed up with Dr. Richard Rende, a Brown University development psychologist. The two co-authored Raising Can-Do Kids, which was published earlier this month by Perigee.
"There are quite a few people talking about how to raise the next generation of entrepreneurs," says Rende. While many authors focus on a parent's ability to pave the way to success through experiences that typically require significant resources and parental intervention, Prosek and Rende take a different route. They suggest that parents who try to help too much end up hindering their children. "For so long, success has been tied to the haves and have-nots," says Prosek. "It's time to change the conversation. The real difference is to raise kids with can-do versus cannot attitudes."
Prosek and Rende suggest focusing on the seven traits below to pave the way for the next generation of innovators.
1. Intense curiosity
Free time can be used for self-directed exploration. Allow your children the room to cultivate creative thought and welcome open discussions inclusive of diverse opinions. Reward behavior that leads your child to strive for new experiences. Finally, encourage your child to use her innate tools to turn her curiosity into action.
"Complexity is the future," says futurist Edie Weiner, founder and president of consulting firm Weiner, Edrich, Brown. Weiner believes that future success will be determined by a person's "complexipacity," a term coined by strategic forecaster David Pearce Snyder. This character trait describes an individual's ability to innovate and disrupt in highly complex, open, and people-intensive environments with feedback loops and unintended consequences. Encourage your child to use the scientific method to break problems down to multiple questions, look at each through various perspectives, and seek out answers from experts. Finally, ask your child questions that help him identify limiting beliefs.
3. Unwavering optimism
"If you don't have some kind of innate optimism, you are not likely to get things done," says Weiner. Being an entrepreneur means believing that a vision can come true, despite adversity. Demonstrate optimism to your child by placing emphasis on change you can directly influence. Show your child that failure is not a stopping point. Focus instead on being grateful for opportunities by looking at all experiences without judgment and seeing them as learning opportunities.
4. Continuous striver
Entrepreneurs are disrupters who take on big problems. Risk is part of the daily experience. A parent's desire to protect may mean they are looking at risk the wrong way. "It's not about risk-taking. It's about opportunity-seeking," says Rende. "The best thing parents can do is step out of the way and let their kids build resilience on their own. Allow kids to experience that failure may bring consequences and consequences rarely mean the end," says Weiner.
5. Action taker
"In the haves population, where money can buy access and opportunity, some will do great things and some will not. Nothing will stop the can population, regardless of have or have-not status," says Weiner. While parents mean well in giving their children the best they can afford, that investment may derail a child's ability to develop the self-esteem and self-starter mentality needed to be a can-do person. When a child shares a problem he or she is passionate about, parents should encourage their child to do something instead of only saying something. Taking it a step further, rewarding children for creativity in a can-do process will cultivate a desire for innovation.
6. Soft skilled
No one achieves entrepreneurial success alone. Personality, behavior, and interpersonal skills matter. Every business is a people business. People will not work with someone they do not like or someone who does not inspire them. Charisma and empathy are critical components to attracting and sustaining entrepreneurial success. Prosek and Rende encourage parents to place emphasis on working through collaboration, conflict, and conversation.
7. Servitude leadership
"As a developmentalist, serving others was the biggest thing I got out of working on this book," says Rende. "Toddlers have a natural inclination to help. If you start rewarding for helping, kids have a tendency to stop helping." When it comes to raising can-do kids, give your children the opportunity to add value. Changing your language about chores, for example, is a great place to start. Instead of saying, "Go get this done," the authors suggest saying, "This has to get done. What should we do?" to reframe the task as adding value by solving a problem for someone else.