Dedicated time with my daughters is important, whether it’s walking around the neighborhood, reading books, or a bedtime ritual. The morning drive to school is also special time for me and my daughters. I find those 20 minutes in the car are a wonderful opportunity to share. We may listen to the music and comment on lyrics and artists. Or discuss current events and what’s happening in the news. And sometimes just sitting in silence, enjoying each other’s company is also rewarding.
For the past several months however, many of our discussions have been around manufacturing, the cost of goods, difficulties in driving team alignment and decision making. No, I didn’t just start driving a co-worker as well. My 7th grade daughter has been taking a yearlong entrepreneurial program in school and it’s opened up a whole new world to her.
The Girls Middle School in Palo Alto has an entrepreneurial studies program for 7th grade. It was one of the many things that first attracted us to the school, and it proved to be as valuable and rewarding an experience as I hoped. After months of hard work and preparation, each team gave a presentation in front of a panel of VC’s and business executives at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. The evening started with a tradeshow and opportunity to sell their products, and ended with each team presenting a summary of their business plan. They included a brief overview of what they learned along the way and how that impacted their product development. Also covered was a financial overview, product positioning (including competitive analysis), and a pitch for additional investment. These girls were literally amazing. Collectively, they demonstrated confidence, creativity, business savvy, and some really terrific ideas. The panelists regrouped for a brief spell and then returned to provide input on their favorite ideas and feedback. Yes, all the teams ended up “funded”.
So what’s the big deal? Clearly I’m a proud Mom. Yet the impression that remains with me is one of great hope for the future. This exercise demonstrated to me the potential of Youth. Too often we read about how self-centered the “next” generation is or worry about how the successive generations will manage (compared to the great job we’ve done). It also struck me that business experience is something that should be shared and encouraged at a much younger age. The things we take for granted as professionals, and strive years to perfect, became areas of incredible focus for these young women. The value in learning and attaining experiences well before their first formal post college job can’t be measured. Using your brain to challenge status quo, think differently, work with people you may not have chosen all stimulate the kind of behavior and thinking is critical in the workplace.
To put some of the “learnings” in context:
- Team work – The school assigned teams of 4 to 5 girls. They weren’t allowed to choose their closest friends. Instead they had to get to know each other, understand each other’s interests and strengths and figure out how to operate as a fully developed team. This led to great discussions around the importance of team work. We talked about my daughters’ frustrations when some people weren’t as responsible or working as hard (granted that was one view). Both how she felt about it and what she thought she could do to help positively impact the situation. I explained that in life we often find that we are part of a diverse team where we don’t always agree or even have the same work ethic. That’s life and we need to be compassionate in understanding our differences and proactively seek ways to work together effectively.
- Leadership – Being a leader isn’t about having the loudest voice or talking the most. It’s about helping to move a team forward. It’s about leading in the face of uncertainty and establishing a direction. It’s about letting other people play a role and feel good about their contribution regardless of the size. My daughter is a confident and verbal young woman. She is adept at dominating conversations and steering direction. Seeing her work through her own personal desires for the team while learning to appreciate the differences each member brought was moving.
- Business acumen – As a career working mom, it was music to my ears to hear my daughter talk about the cost of labor, business plans, sales, etc. It actually brought us closer together. For years, I’ve been the mom that works long hours and travels, who has a job that her kids don’t really understand. Now we were actually talking a common language that was new and exciting to her and allowed me to share my perspective and experience.
- Results Orientation – The teams were each given a set amount to start their business. They needed to track all expenses, identify effective pricing, and manage their balance sheet. Each team was expected to make a profit and to donate 20% to a charity of their choice. There were very specific targets in their business plan and they had to work extra hours and weekends to achieve their goals. The weekend of the big presentation and tradeshow, my daughter worked 10 hours building and prepping their product for sale. It was wonderful to see her commitment and determination.
The experiences I mention above are not new to anyone. I’ll bet you spend a good portion of your time thinking about these areas and working with your team to develop more effectively or to be a star contributor. We need to understand and excel in these areas in order to be successful. How wonderful it is to see our kids get a chance to start this work now. Every day I reflect on how many opportunities our kids have to learn and grow in ways we never did. And sometimes I worry that it is all too much. This experience helped reinforce to me the fact that they are ready and it’s never too early to get started.