The environmental culture in which our kids are raised has a critical impact on their entrepreneurship inclination, skills and likely success.
I am not saying that culture is the only factor that determines ones ability to become an entrepreneur.
I am also not saying that people cannot be entrepreneurs later in life, as a second career.
And finally, I am not saying that you are born an entrepreneur.
But here is what I am saying:
Future entrepreneurs start experimenting their entrepreneurial skills at a very young age, literally from birth.
So what does it mean at a very young age? And why is entrepreneurship so important?
3 reasons why entrepreneurship is so important:
- It builds societies
- It’s an engine for economic growth
- It’s a great mechanism to mitigate geopolitical risk
We tend to think of an entrepreneur as somebody with a brilliant idea.
But in reality – there are millions of brilliant ideas, services & products that never see the light of day.
Because an idea, while it’s the heart of an entrepreneurial venture, can originate from everywhere. In addition, in many cases – you start up with one idea, but you end up executing on another. Listening to your customers, your technological or operational teams and the reality of what is required; all of those will change the initial idea.
So an idea is necessary, but in no way is that the definition of entrepreneurship.
Then what is?
In my opinion, it is the ability to execute on an idea, to actually bring it to life.
Sounds simple. But it’s not. It requires a specific set of skills that can, and actually must, be intentionally nurtured from a very young age.
Economies, such as the US and Israel, which have traditionally excelled at innovation and entrepreneurship, have some of these skills structurally embedded in their cultural roots and societies.
Let’s take Israel as an example. With a population of 8 million people, and the size of the state of New Jersey:
- It has the highest density of start-ups in the world;
- It is ranked first outside the US as a global hub of entrepreneurship;
- It attracts more venture capital per capita than any other country.
So no doubt – there are a lot of successful entrepreneurs in Israel.
I, personally, believe, that the roots of the entrepreneurial DNA are sown at a very young age. In the way my generation was raised, and in the way we raise our kids:
- In the early 50s, an Israeli kindergarden teacher, Malcka Has, experimented with a new idea, which she called the “Junk Yard”. She enabled young kids to play with old, unused day to day objects, encouraging them to do whatever they wanted with those objects. Not necessarily using them for their regular purposes. Not guiding the kids towards a goal. But rather the opposite. Giving them the freedom to imagine. Create. Try. Disassemble. Build. Re-use in a different way. Leveraging their natural curiosity and passion to act. With minimum interference. These Junk Yards exist to date in many Israeli kindergardens.
Curiosity, which includes the ability and right to ask questions, challenge authority, mine information and actively react to anybody anywhere, is encouraged in Israeli schools, families, play grounds – everywhere. Chaotic as it might seem – the outcome are active thinking kids, willing to act upon their thoughts and imagination.
- The challenging geopolitical climate Israel is part of, requires from its people the ability to cope with uncertainty, on a regular basis.
Imagine your kids’ summer vacation, when several times a day, a sirene starts, and everyone needs to find a shelter. 3 minutes later – back to the playground: Swinging, climbing, playing with their friends. Israeli kids have no choice but to embrace uncertainty into their lives. And cope with fast changing circumstances. Hence, they develop a strong sense for Problem Solving. Finding solutions that work for now.
Is there one way for kids to use a slide? Should we only teach them to climb the ladder up ? Or could we actually let them figure out, by themselves, how they want to use it? In a typical Israeli playground, one will find kids climbing the slide, and jumping from the ladder. And rarely will an adult comment or correct them.
- And those kids are determined. They develop an inner confidence in themselves, a sense of resilience, risk profile, energy and motivation to figure things out and get them done, never letting any obstacle deter them. We, as parents, and the society in general, are pretty much failure tolerant. Israeli society appreciates trying, doing, acting, more than it is concerned with failure. A cult kids’ TV show presented a character that toured the country in adventures, and always fell/got hurt/tumbled. His tag line was “Kids, no need to worry, Yatzek always falls and gets back”. So kids are not afraid to do. Even if they will get it wrong. They will still try.
In 2010, psychology professor Neil Montgomery of Keene State College in New Hampshire surveyed 300 college freshmen nationwide and found that students with helicopter parents were less open to new ideas and actions and more vulnerable, anxious, and self-conscious.
He found that with “students who were given responsibility and not constantly monitored by their parents—so-called ‘free rangers’—the effects were reversed”.
My experiences in the innovative and vibrant start-up ecosystem in Israel, have informed my perspective that innovation and entrepreneurship is not a magical moment that occurs. Rather, it is a product of a specific set of skills that must be intentionally nurtured from a young age.
However, unlike some theories of economic development that can be exported to other countries or regions, it’s unlikely that a country will rewrite its cultural norms.
What is important is the point of deliberate choice.
People that can influence on young others, have a choice to make on how we cultivate their entrepreneurial skills and capabilities.
So when they come to us and ask us “How should I solve this problem?” or “what should I do next?”, our reaction to their questions; and furthermore their choices and failures; their experiments and initiatives – our reaction to all of those is critical.
And a final word of warning: this is hard, and it will cost you something: quite a big mess in your house. Tears. Sometimes Frustration.
So I recommend considering it as a long-term investment, in your kids, the adult they will be, your immediate ecosystem, and ultimately the society of which you are part.