Grown-ups believe they are older and wiser than their kids, and youths often think they are smarter than their parents, and much smarter than all those little kids. But we can all learn lessons from one another. Entrepreneurs can learn a lot about business from the peewee crowd.
1) Kids see actions, not words:
Adults can be bamboozled with words. Politicians know it. Kids don’t often get the words because their vocabularies haven’t developed enough to understand what adults are saying, so they look at the actions. They learn from observations. Watch children in a store. They scrutinize the packaging and pictures and ignore the print.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs alike would do well to observe how their potential customers behave, rather than what they say. Entrepreneurs need to listen with their eyes more.
2) If at first you ask and get a “No,” then ask again, and again, and again.
Ask everyone who will listen. If Mom says “No,” go ask Dad. If Dad says “No,” go ask big sister. If big sister says, “No,” go ask Grandma and the list goes on. They aren’t shy about asking, and they will ask everyone and anyone who will listen. They never stop. They keep their minds focused on the objective.
Kids don’t even think much of going up to strangers and asking for what they want. When my daughter was young, I recall her going up to another mom who was eating crackers out of a big box at the ice skating rink and asked her if she could have some crackers. She didn’t know even know the woman. Kids wouldn’t think twice about asking if they believe it will get them what they want. The unpleasantness of cold calling would never deter a kid from concentrating on the end goal.
I see this with start-ups all the time. The founders don’t have a background in sales or marketing and are timid about contacting customers and investors. If they get too many rejections, the entrepreneurs quit. Kids would never quit; they would keep nagging and whining and asking. They will persist, and when every opportunity is exhausted, they try another approach. And they won’t forget. They return to the issue over and over again as the days and weeks go on. They are fixated on the goal.
3) Tired? Thinking of quitting? What would your kids say to you? What would you say to your child if the situation were reversed?
Parents and teachers don’t let kids quit easily. We insist that our kids give 100% effort. If a child was watching you work or watching you get depressed over a project not going well, what do you think they would say to us?
I take swim lessons. Sometimes it’s more than an hour into the lesson; I’m tired and my coach decides to do sprint drills. It’s been a long day, it’s the evening, and I just want to stop. At that moment, I think of my daughter. If her coach told her to go and do something and she complained to me, I’d tell her to go out there and do it. I’d give her the speech on that’s what champions do, they fight through the not wanting to do something now and get the job done anyway. I imagine my daughter sitting by the side of the pool, watching my lesson. What would she say at the moment? She’d repeat my speech back to me (as she has done on occasion) and tell me I’m being a wimp. And so I stare down the lane and just swim.
4) Kids see the world as full of potential:
Kids look at much of the world in a simplistic fashion. Sometimes I think all of our experiences can hold us back as adults. Kids don’t have those experiences and so don’t engage in risk management. Thus, the goal seems attainable and not impossible.
If an entrepreneur proposes a new product, there is always someone who will say that it’s been done before and it’s failed. Then the entrepreneur starts to assess all the possible failures and derives contingency plans for every scenario. Quickly the entrepreneur’s focus becomes the breaking points and hurdles. Now that these potential calamities have been identified, they must be researched and analyzed. This often results in paralysis analysis, and entrepreneurs never make it past the planning phase.
For a kid, the thought process is simpler –“I want it and I will get it.” There is no thought of failure, just success. Most kids know the consequences of failure are mostly trivial, while the rewards of success are not. The younger a child is the more success is taken for granted. It is to be expected. Kids have a clear vision of what they want.
5) Kids believe one step closer is always better.
If you have a goal, inching closer is better than not doing anything at all. Once you get to the next step, try getting yet one step further. While kids may not possess the ability to plan how to get to the end, they move closer and closer to what they want. It’s okay if they only know how to get from step A to step C, even if the ultimate objective is step Z. It’s a successful strategy.
A preschooler will see a television commercial and ask for the toy. Mom says, ”No, you have enough toys”. The next words spoken by the preschooler, “Can we go to the toy store?” Mom says, “No, but I’m going to the supermarket, do you want to come with me?” And the preschooler responds, “Yes”. When they pull into the parking lot, the preschooler will say, “Look, there’s the toy store right next door to the supermarket. Can we go and just look?” Every parent knows where this is going. Once in the store, the preschooler looks for that toy, and will ask to take it home.
6) Kids ask, “Why Not?” far more often than adults.
Kids are much better innovators than adults. Innovation is the act of combining things in different ways in order to reach a goal, produce a new product, or apply it to a new problem. They keep their eyes on the prize and don’t let obstacles stop them.
My youngest is the best at this. I’ve walked into her room to find she stacked chairs on top of her rocking horse in order to reach something. As scary as I find this, only once has she fallen and cried. I usually just find her somewhere with the object of her desire in her hand and the contraption she’s built still intact. I am amazed at some of the devices she builds. She uses chairs, toys, jump ropes, and so on. She is very clever, a future innovator who can use the things around in different ways.
7) You can learn a lot about motivating employees from kids.
After all, adults are just bigger versions of kids, but often behave the same, particularly if your staff is the twenty-something crowd. First, children are reward driven: they will amaze you and exceed your expectations if they are properly motivated, and that means immediate gratification. Bonus programs work best if the payout is near-term. In my experience, quarterly bonuses work well and the reward cannot be too difficult to achieve. It can’t be something that they can only reach once in 5 years. They have to get something 75% of the time and doling it out every few frequently works well. Long-term rewards that are years away don’t do much to affect performance today.
Rewards don’t have to be a great deal to affect performance. Kids will do a lot to get that lollipop, or get to go to the front of assembly and be acknowledged for their work. People will work harder to get dinner for two at an upscale restaurant or an iPad.
Kids lose interest with something new quickly. Despite the initial enthusiasm, new employees don’t work as hard once they settle into routine and mundane work.
A bad apple affects the behavior of others. If you let one child get away with it, the others will soon try and get away with it, too. You need to nip the behavior in the bud as soon as possible. Improper behavior gets copied quickly, and is more difficult to eradicate as it spreads.
Kids respond well to structure and rules, and so do employees. Don’t make exceptions unless it’s really reasonable to do so.
Author Byline: Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three tech start-ups companies. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups. Cynthia writes the Start-up Entrepreneurs’ Blog www.cynthiakocialski.com. Cynthia has written the book, “Out of the Classroom Lessons in Success: How to Prosper Without Being at the Top of the Class.” The book serves up tips, insight, and wisdom to enable young adults and parents of kids to know what it will take to forge a successful career, no matter what their academic achievement.