Growing great entrepreneurs

Being the most educated but worst paid generation in history, Millennials are faced with some extraordinary economic challenges. Whereas the qualities of corporate loyalty, unreserved respect for authority and unquestioning obedience were guarantees of a successful career thirty years ago, achieving success in today’s freelance economy is dependent on an entirely new set of credentials, which begs the question: are our children equipped for this? Restrained by an education system still hell-bent on teaching the reproductive cycle of a frog, how do we rise to the challenge of nurturing great entrepreneurs as opposed to good employees?

Model entrepreneurship at home

Being an attitude and not an occupation, entrepreneurship can easily be modelled at home. Fostering entrepreneurial skills at home means encouraging curiosity, independence and a willingness to figure things out on one’s own. In Prosek and Rende’s book, ‘Raising can-do kids: Giving children the tools to thrive in a fast-changing world’, the authors determined that the seven key entrepreneurial traits parents should focus on are exploration, innovation, optimism, risk-taking, industriousness, likeability and serving others. Based on this research, it is evidently not necessary to be a tech disruptor in order to set a good example for one’s children. The family home is the perfect place to teach and encourage universal soft skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, social skills, public speaking and lateral thinking.

Expose your children to risk and rewards

Whereas helicopter parents tend to want to protect their children from risk whilst allowing them to benefit from reward, this practice is counter to the development of the entrepreneurial spirit. Participation prizes may be feel-good but they are not reflective of how businesses operate. Children who are praised for simply participating are being set up for disappointment by a global economy where merely pitching up is not enough. Exposing children to risks allows them to experience the natural human emotions – fear, excitement, anticipation – that come with risk-taking, with the underlying lesson being that there are no guarantees one’s idea will work. In order to help children distinguish between entrepreneurial risk and general risky behaviour, words such as ‘initiative’, ‘resourcefulness’ and ‘inventiveness’ can be used to encourage children to think creatively. The freedom to fail is a liberating one. The art of dusting oneself off and trying again is an essential one.

Encourage creative thinking

Focusing on finding creative solutions rather than fixating on failure can help children remain positive and motivated in the face of disappointment. Approaching failure as an opportunity to learn and brainstorm creative – even outlandish – solutions is likely to make a child feel comfortable with risk-taking and accepting of the reality that sometimes ideas fail; and that sometimes failure is a precursor to something incredible. ‘How’ and ‘why’ questions are helpful in getting the child to deconstruct the problem and search inwardly for solutions.

Let your children make decisions

Entrepreneurial confidence is rooted in early independence. Whether it’s choosing an outfit, spending pocket money or selecting off a menu, the most important outcome of allowing children to make decisions is that they are exposed to what it feels like to be a decision-maker. There are critical thought processes that take place during any decision-making process – including the assessment of possible risks and rewards – and stifling this skill stunts entrepreneurial development. Well-considered decision-making can further only be developed if the child is permitted to experience the consequences of his or her decision.

Challenge the status quo

Generally not encouraged by mainstream education, a key characteristic of the entrepreneurial mind is the ability to challenge the status quo. Whereas, in general, school-going children are rewarded for following the rules blindly – which inhibits entrepreneurship – constructing ways to challenge norms is something that we, as parents, can teach our children. Old autocratic parenting traditions aimed at ensuring blind obedience will not prepare the youth for this new economy. Learning how (and when) to articulate rational arguments and well-constructed alternatives that question previously unchallenged norms encourages useful disruption.

Allow children to earn money

An interesting alternative to paying children pocket money is to allow them the opportunity to earn their own money by identifying chores that need to be done around the house, and then negotiating payment for their hard work upfront. In doing so, children are taught to identify opportunities for generating income, make decisions that involve cost-benefit analyses, and learn to negotiate a good deal. In the process, children are bound to contemplate the shortcomings of selling one’s time in exchange for money and explore creative ways of creating a passive income.

Embrace disruptive careers

Globalisation, automation and disruptive technologies have completely shifted the economic landscape for our children. According to economist, Robert Reich, by 2020 more than 40% of the US work force will be freelance, contract or self-employed. ‘Doctor, lawyer, teacher or nurse’ may have been the extent of our career options, but it is most certainly no longer the case. Some estimates are that two-thirds of today’s students will work in occupations that don’t yet exist. Uber drivers, mobile app developers, social media managers and drone operators are just a few examples of jobs that did not exist 10 years ago. Tertiary education opportunities for our children are as many as they are imaginable, but these academic credentials will need to be partnered with an entrepreneurial spirit to be effective.

In this economy, it is highly unlikely that our children’s future economic success will depend on what school they attended, who they know or their credentials. More compelling indicators for success can be found in the answers to the questions: Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and get dirty? Can you brush yourself off and start again if you fail? Can you overcome seemingly impossible obstacles? Are you brave enough to challenge the status quo? Are you willing to reinvent yourself in an ever-changing world?

Grit, determination and dogged hard work lie at the heart of entrepreneurship and our children need to be commended when displaying these attributes. Let’s equip our children to engage their entrepreneurial spirits and build their dreams for, as Tony Gaskin once said, “If you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to help build theirs.”

Have a super week.


Siyabulela Xuza is a young South African scientist who began experimenting with rocket fuel in his mother’s Mthatha home. Having developed cheaper and safer rocket fuel, he now has a small planet named after him.



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