Inspirational speaker James Skinner exhorts parents to draw out the entrepreneur in their child in this post-information age.
Contributed By Yong Yung Shin
It might not have been a revelation to many in the audience when international motivational speaker James Skinner proclaimed that formal education systems everywhere have not caught up with the demands of a post-industrial world. In fact, we have even surpassed the information age, given that information is easily obtainable for almost no cost at all through the Internet.
Rather, the world is in an age of art, ideas and creativity, where entrepreneurship is key to survival. “If the labor you produce is replaceable, you will be replaceable sooner or later,” he said at the Singapore Education Summit 2011 at Marina Mandarin Hotel on May 21. Skinner is a well-known motivational speaker who has been featured on CNN, CNBC, Forbes and the Financial Times, among others. He has also served as a diplomat for the US State Department. Giving the audience a glimpse into his childhood, he told of how he enrolled into the school of hard knocks when he had to find his own means of survival at the age of 6, after he came home from school one day and discovered that his whole family was packed and ready to flee the Mafia.
Illustrating with music lessons where the norm is to test students on how well they reproduce a score, he said, “The only problem is that music is everything that’s not written on the score—it’s not the translation—computers can produce music now; it’s the interpretation.” Instead of replicating the music of others, they should be taught to create their own music. “Every child is born an entrepreneur until you beat it out of him or her,” he said. Children, after all, have inquiring minds, always question assumptions, and believe that nothing is impossible.
Parents should let their child be “their own person” by supporting their interests instead of compelling them to become who they want their child to be. He gave the example of Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple Computers, who introduced the world to the possibility of aesthetics in computer type because he had taken a class in calligraphy. Only half-jokingly, he challenged the audience, “How many of you parents would be excited if your child told you he wants to study calligraphy?”
Parents also need to provide broad life experiences, encourage their child to make decisions for themselves (even if they won’t always like the decision), treat them as adults from the beginning and always affirm their value and worth. Skinner recounted the time when he brought home a less-than-glowing report card, and instead of berating him and calling him “stupid,” his mother said, “I don’t understand how someone as brilliant as you can bring home a report card like this.” Her way of confronting him about the problem without putting him down affirmed him of his potential and value.
Next, parents should teach children entrepreneurial values by encouraging them to play strategic games and solve puzzles, putting them to work at an early age and paying them for the value of the job done and not the time clocked, encouraging them to start their own businesses, as well as nurturing risk-taking while cultivating discipline—the determination to follow through with what one has decided in advance to do.
Additionally, they should model entrepreneurial values in their own lives, help develop their child’s sense of quality and value by exposing them to as many things as possible, teach them to challenge assumptions and show that any goal can be accomplished by organizing the right team.
Finally, having sown the seed of entrepreneurism in them, parents should be prepared for the consequences, knowing that the path their child takes may not turn out the way they had planned. They need to be able to accept the possibility of failure (but understand the reasons behind it), leave room for play, and enjoy the journey with their child as they grow. Above all, he emphasized that parents should never measure their own success by that of their child’s.
Other speakers at the two-day event organized by EdValue included the recipient of the South East Asia Women of Excellence 2010 award, Genecia Luo and founder and CEO of academic learning resource Advocators Education, Kong Yew Kiin.