This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 20-Feb-2014 issue
Our generation, our parents’ generation and generations before that, were raised to go to school, get a grade 12, and get a degree in order to get a job. But the world has changed. Job security and certainty about tomorrow, no longer exist. We cannot depend on anyone else but ourselves for financial and career security. We as parents and our educational system should be training our kids to be entrepreneurs, so that they can create jobs instead of working in jobs for someone else. We should be teaching them to be resourceful, resilient and creative, so that they can create their own successful tomorrow and don’t depend on someone else for their future.
Entrepreneurship thought leader Cameron Herold has been coaching and mentoring entrepreneurs worldwide for over 20 years, helping them build better businesses. A lifelong entrepreneur from Canada, he has built three $100m+ companies. In his TEDx talk entitled “Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs”, Cameron puts forward a compelling business case for parenting and education that unlocks the potential of would-be entrepreneurs – as kids and as adults. The traditional schooling system teaches kids to aspire towards good jobs, to be lawyers, doctors, accountants and professionals in specific fields. The media teaches them to become popstars and celebrities. Most MBA programmes teach MBA students to aspire towards high-paying corporate jobs. However there are two big flaws with this approach:
1. Many of the jobs that are commonplace today, won’t be around tomorrow, and the jobs that will be around tomorrow, don’t even exist today. So how can we educate our kids for these jobs? The current model of vocation-specific training won’t cut it. However, you can teach them skills that they can use in any environment, skills like creativity, innovation, the ability to improvise, adaptability and resilience.
2. Also, what if your child is bored in school, failing their subjects, or has a knack for selling things to their classmates? Traditional schooling would label a child with this cluster of symptoms as a problem child or a weak student. And the typical school approach would be to give the child extra support or extra lessons in the subjects where they are weak, or to clamp down on their break-time selling activities. But this child might be an entrepreneur, says Cameron Herold. He feels we should rather be developing children like these in the areas where they are strong, in the areas vital to entrepreneurs such as business skills or opportunity-identification, public speaking, negotiation and selling.“ As parents, as educators and as society, we have an obligation to teach our kids to fish instead of giving them the fish. Just as we nurture those kids who show talent in maths and science, why not nurture the ones who show talent in entrepreneurial traits? That way we would have more kids growing up to be entrepreneurs and creating jobs, instead of depending on jobs and government hand-outs. Entrepreneurs hire accountants, they don’t train to become accountants.”
One definition of an entrepreneur is “a person who organises, operates and assumes the risk for a business venture.“ Every day all around us, there are many opportunities to develop our kids into budding entrepreneurs, from pocket money alternatives, to bedtime stories, the Internet and lots more:
1. Pocket money teaches kids the wrong habits, says Herold. It teaches kids to think about a job from a young age. An entrepreneur doesn’t expect a regular salary. Even if it is tied to chores, pocket money trains kids to expect a regular salary. Even worse, they come to expect hand-outs if they get pocket money without having to work for it. Cameron has come up with a better way to develop entrepreneurial traits, which he uses with his own kids: he teaches them to walk around the house looking for things that need to be done. Then the kids can negotiate with the parents as to how much you’ll pay them to do the things you need done. This teaches them about supply and demand. Also, instead of giving them a regular fixed allowance just for being a kid, they get more opportunities to earn more money. So they are in essence learning to write their own paycheque. It also teaches them how to negotiate and how to spot new opportunities.
2. Bedtime stories also provide a wonderful opportunity to develop entrepreneurial traits in your children. Instead of reading them bedtime stories seven nights a week, cut this down to four nights a week, and on the other three nights let them tell the stories. When it is their turn to tell stories, you could give them 4 random objects to weave into the story. For example, they could create a story involving a red ball, a chair, a dog and a pineapple. This teaches them creativity, the ability to improvise and think on their feet, and the ability to tell stories, a key skill in getting people to buy into what you’re selling.
3. Another fantastic technique is to teach your child to “make a plan”. If they are battling with a challenge, as tempting as it may be, don’t jump in and tell them how to solve it. Let them come up with their own solution to the problem. This teaches them improvisation, resourcefulness and creativity, and empowers them to become problem-solvers instead of helpless victims. And very importantly, your child may come up with a solution better than yours that you hadn’t thought of.
4. You could also encourage your children to stand up in front of others and talk. This could mean doing plays or dress-up stories in front of their friends or family, where they act as someone one else. This will help them become confident and comfortable speaking to an audience from a young age. It will also teach them to put themselves in the shoes of their customer, to better understand what would their customers’ needs and hot buttons are. All of these are vital skills that build better entrepreneurs.
5. The Internet provides incredible opportunities for kids to develop entrepreneurial ability. Opportunities that past generations simply didn’t have without the Internet. Over the years our 9-year-old son Jayden has collected piles and piles of books, many of which he has outgrown as his reading ability has improved. After giving a good deal of books to charity, he came up with the idea of selling the rest to younger kids. So we taught him how to create his own website for free on Weebly.com, and he started selling his second-hand books online via the website that he himself built. Jayden may not have earned his millions yet, but he is learning valuable skills that will help him become a successful entrepreneur one day.
6. A day in the life of an entrepreneur. Cell C created the “Take a girl child to work day”. Why not extend this to both boys and girls? But instead of letting them see what a job is like, let them experience what an entrepreneur does during his or her work day? This will make it real for them and help them have an experience they can remember and aspire towards. My husband Gavin did this with our two kids Jayden and Kayla (age 7). Gavin had an idea for a product to stop adults having to nag their kids. He involved our kids in the creation process. He also brought them along to a meeting with a patent lawyer and industrial designer, so the kids could better understand the legal and practical design aspects of bringing a new product or service to life. Only a child could get excited about a meeting with a lawyer, but needless to say they were!
A fantastic home-grown entrepreneurship story is that of 13-year-old Je-Mé Baartjes and her 7-year-old brother Viam, who live in Johannesburg. At the tender age of 3, Je-Mé started her own business breeding and selling dwarf rabbits. Parents Charlaine and Neale Baartjes helped Je-Mé to get the business up and running. Their sage advice to their children: choose a business venture that is fun because then it will never feel like work. Taking this to heart, Je-Mé built her business around dwarf rabbits. She had held one for the first time in 2003 and was hooked on “dwarfies” ever since. The part of her business that she enjoys the most is playing with the new baby dwarf rabbits. As she herself says: “It is so much fun that it does not feel like hard work.”
Her parents also taught her the value of having goals and dreams to strive for. From age 4 Je-Mé’s big dream was to go to Disney World and see her favourite character Goofy. Fast-forward to 2011, when, after 7 years of breeding and selling dwarf rabbits in her business, Je-Mé had earned enough revenue to pay for a trip to Disney World for herself and younger brother Viam. In 2005 she built her own website www.dwarfrabbits.co.za. “Today the site gets 2,500 visits per day from around the world”, she says. The business brings in a steady annual income of R60,000. Not bad for a 13-year-old and far better than a few Rands of pocket money a week!
Younger brother Viam is also earning his entrepreneurial colours: with his dwarf rabbit hotel, he takes care of dwarf rabbits when their owners are away or on holiday.
In 2013, their parents also created the R8,000 challenge for Viam and Je-Mé. Each child was given R1,000, with the goal of converting this into R8,000 each by Sep-2014. So far the two have generated R13,000 altogether, and they are well on their way towards beating the R16,000 mark. After each child gives back the R1,000 seed-money to their parents and puts R8,000 into a trust, they can keep whatever is left over. The kids want to be millionaires by age 18, and what better way than to start young? Already working on her own book, big sister Je-Mé is quick to credit her mom for their visionary thinking. “My mom says I must ‘keep having dreams a size too big so that you can grow into your dreams’ “ explains Je-Mé.
With inspirational kids like Je-Mé and Viam Baartjes lighting the way for other young entrepreneurs in South Africa, even an uncertain future looks bright for tomorrow’s generation. These kids are the ones who will come up with creative, new ways of solving the world’s problems in ways that previous generations never thought possible.