Elon Musk’s parents probably always thought he was “really innovative!” and Oprah’s parents no doubt felt their little girl had “lots of personality!”, but did either of them expect their kids to grow into world-beating entrepreneurs? Of course not, that would have been giving themselves more credit than is polite. But what about Elon’s and Oprah’s upbringing contributed to their future command of multiple industries (and also all the bees)?
Margot Machol Bisnow asks that question in Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers and Change Makers. She interviewed dozens of people (including, full disclosure, Fatherly‘s co-founder) who’ve changed the world to find out what in the heck their parents put in their cereal. The big takeaway is that it isn’t tiger moms or taskmaster dads who molded these people, but regular parents who have some unexpected tips on raising extraordinary children.
Let Your Kid Try All Their Silly Ideas
Bisnow found that a common thread among entrepreneurial kids was they grew up without fear of doing some wacky stuff — even by elementary school standards. “Even if [these kids] had to fix the mess or apologize for breaking something or screwing up, they were never punished for it,” she says.
For example, John Arrow, founder of the high stakes technology troubleshooting company Mutual Mobile, had a lemonade stand growing up. But at 9 he realized billionaires don’t sell lemonade, so he followed his next entrepreneurial impulse to give people what they want. He dug up an elderly neighbor’s plant tried to sell it back to her. Instead of making the sale, she called his parents. But Arrow’s folks weren’t mad, just insistent he replant the stolen goods.
Or take the parents of Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad, who put up with his annoying childhood quirk: taking stuff apart. When Stephens was 3 he removed all the doorknobs in the house and neatly laid them out on a table. It rough when your kid locks you inside the house, but that lead to a job repairing TVs at 12 and then launching a geeky computer-fixing empire. “His parents didn’t punish him, they started calling him the Fix-It guy,” says Bisnow. “So many of these parents recognized the things emerging in their children and nourished them.” Getting in trouble may just be a byproduct of incubating that million-dollar startup idea.
Support Your Kids When Their Passions Are Different From Your Own
You might not recognize your kid’s society-shifting idea, and it won’t always jibe with your notion of success. You could sit little Doogie to prep for the MCATs at 10-years-old, but letting them do what they want early on may be more practical. Bisnow found that kids who went on to do big things were often allowed to pursue their hobbies. “These parents had other ideas about what they wanted for their children. But once they realized their children had a passion, they supported it.”
Jon M. Chu, director of G.I. Joe Retaliation and Now You See Me 2, was a first-generation American whose parents were from China and Taiwan and ran a restaurant in Silicon Valley. Chu was forced to take every musical lesson imaginable. He knew early on he wasn’t a concert trianglist, but a born video editor. His parents hit up their techy Palo Alto patrons for used equipment and computers, which Chu used to work on all night long.
One night his mom stormed into his room, angry that he was hiding under the covers editing. “The next day she picked him up at school and said, okay, if you want to do this, you need to be the best,” says Bisnow. Moral of this story: Always knock. But also, if your kids aren’t going to do the thing you want, make sure they’re kicking ass at the thing they want.
Don’t Worry About Raising Teacher’s Pets And ‘A’ Students
The cliche that entrepreneurial wizards drop out of Ivy League colleges has another side. A lot of those kids barely squeaked through school, ticking off their teachers, principals, and their parents in the process.
Every week, starting in kindergarten, school administrators called Benny Blanco’s (then Ben Levin) mother. You might know Blanco as a Grammy-nominated one-man hit factory who was responsible for Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” and Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” He also sucked at school. Blanco refused to sit in a circle with the other kids, and his mom’s reaction was: “So?” She could have forced Blanco sit with the other kids, but he had a music teacher who saw his ability, so she let him pursue that instead.
“A lot of these kids struggled academically and the schools didn’t appreciate them,” says Bisnow. “It was super important to have parents who supported and praised them for excelling in things outside of school.” Not only did those kids have more self-confidence doing something they loved, but they reached that Gladwellian 10,000-hour mark by the time they could drive a car — and subsequently pull right up to their lucrative career.
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