How to tell if you’re bad at collaborating

Published by Lori Pickert on August 15, 2012 at 03:52 PM

1 - You don’t want to share your successes.

If you’re a teacher, this means you don’t want the person in the next classroom copying your decor, your bulletin boards, or the way you do independent reading. Those belong to YOU. You care more about getting the credit than you do about the kids in the other classrooms.

You want to have a little edge up on everyone else — that’s how you win, right?!

2 - You don’t want to admit your failures.

Failures and mistakes are something to hide, preferably in a shallow grave far, far away in the woods.

No way do you want to “share” what’s not going well and let these people see you’re not perfect. They’re your competitors. It’s all about maintaining a façade of effortless ease — no one respects a loser.

3 - You can’t tell the difference between brainstorming and having all the answers.

If someone offers you a suggestion, they must think they’re God’s gift to homeschooling/unschooling/teaching/parenting.

If someone shares an issue they’re having, they must want everyone else to do their work for them. Instead of tossing your ideas in, you take the floor to explain what they did wrong and how they should fix it. At least then everyone will recognize that you know what you’re doing.

4 - If you can’t be the pitcher, you’re quitting and taking your ball home with you.

If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes — so if you’re not the lead dog, you’re out the door. After all, without hierarchy, how can we tell who’s ahead of whom?

5 - You only respect people who are exactly like you.

There’s your way and the various multitude of wrong ways. If someone is doing something differently than you do it, it means they don’t respect you and they think you’re doing it wrong. They’re attacking you, so start defending yourself!

• • •

All of these things come into play when you collaborate with your child.

Collaborating doesn’t mean playing devil’s advocate or shooting down “bad” ideas. It means taking a non-perfect or partially formed idea and working together to make it better. Instead of hitting things head on (right/wrong, black/white), it means tapping them to change their trajectory. And everyone gets in on the tapping.

Bad collaborating = “That won’t work.”

Good collaborating = “What if…?”

Collaboration assumes that working together you can create something better than you could on your own. When we collaborate with our children, we help them build this skill: the ability to sit down with others and help each other, work together to refine ideas and find solutions. It requires respecting different views, different talents, and different strengths. It requires respecting other people’s ideas and other people’s perspectives. You can’t collaborate if you always have to be the one in charge, the one who knows everything, the one who’s right. Collaboration requires mutual respect — and humility.

Collaboration doesn’t mean getting other people to solve your problems for you. It means hearing other opinions and seeing things from a different angle. It helps you solve your own problems.

Collaboration is an attempt to leverage success for all. We can all help each other, so we all win. Rising tides lift all boats. When we come together to increase the number of perspectives, the amount of insight, and the sheer quantity of available ideas, we are investing in each other’s success. Collaboration recognizes that success is not a zero-sum game: you don’t have to lose so I can win. We can both win.

People who don’t collaborate well also struggle with learning — because learning requires the same abilities as collaboration:

- humility

- the desire to learn

- willingness to make mistakes

- willingness to mentor and be mentored

- an open, questioning mind

Helping your child learn to collaborate — by collaborating with you and other family members, then with peers — you help her strengthen her ability to learn, succeed, and help others succeed.

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas. — George Bernard Shaw

The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team. — Phil Jackson

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. — Henry Ford

Test scores vs. creativity and entrepreneurship

Published by Lori Pickert on July 17, 2012 at 11:21 AM

[T]est scores are not measures of entrepreneurship or creativity. Not even scores on the intensely watched and universally worshiped Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, are good indicators of a nation's capacity for entrepreneurship and creativity.

In doing research for my book World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, I found a significant negative relationship between PISA performance and indicators of entrepreneurship. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, or GEM, is an annual assessment of entrepreneurial activities, aspirations, and attitudes of individuals in more than 50 countries. Initiated in 1999, about the same time that PISA began, GEM has become the world's largest entrepreneurship study. Thirty-nine countries that participated in the 2011 GEM also participated in the 2009 PISA, and 23 out of the 54 countries in GEM are considered “innovation-driven” economies, which means developed countries.

More importantly, it seems that countries with higher PISA scores have fewer people confident in their entrepreneurial capabilities. Comparing the two sets of data shows clearly countries that score high on PISA do not have levels of entrepreneurship that match their stellar scores.

Moreover, what brings great test scores may hamper entrepreneurial qualities. Standardized testing and a focus on rote memorization, for example, are perhaps the biggest enemies of entrepreneurial capability. — Double-Think: The Creativity-Testing Conflict

The article goes on to say, “A narrow and uniform curriculum deprives children of opportunities to explore and experiment with their interest and passion, which is the foundation of entrepreneurship.”

What you need as an entrepreneur is not only the confidence in your own ideas but also the experience of managing projects and solving problems. When education is too much fill-in-the-blank and not enough creating something meaningful in the real world, students don’t only lose their ability to put their own ideas into action, they lose the desire.

Raising entrepreneurs: Making things happen

Published by Lori Pickert on December 20, 2011 at 04:56 PM

Ideas are one thing and what happens is another.    — John Cage

An entrepreneur isn’t just on fire with an idea; (s)he is able to do what needs to be done to make it really happen.

Inspiration is not enough. Between the idea and the execution is a lot of hard work. How do children learn how to make their ideas happen? How do they learn how to forge ahead when things don’t come easily?

Talent and ability is not enough. Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Being in charge of your own business — and your own life — is less scary when you have a lot of experience solving problems, finding collaborators, and making things work.

One of the great lessons of project work is that big ideas break down into a lot of small tasks, and when you complete all those tasks, you eventually get to see your big idea in action. That simple experience of doing what’s necessary to make things happen — over and over again — teaches an important lesson of building a company or a life: you have to get started, and you have to do what’s necessary, if you want to see your ideas come to fruition.

Children whose learning is centered around following directions and meeting the requirements set forth by adults may be well prepared to be employees. But will they be prepared to be in charge of their own business and their own life? Will they know how to make their own ideas happen?

Creativity is, quite simply, a genuine interest combined with initiative. — Scott Belsky, Making Ideas Happen


Raising entrepreneurs: Risk tolerance

Published by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2011 at 02:41 AM

When I was in the early years of running my first business, I hung a bulletin board right beside me at my desk. On it I had three things: a graph showing compound interest on savings, a page torn from the Whole Earth Review with a quote by Helen Keller, and a tiny quiz “Could You Be an Entrepreneur?” torn from a business magazine.

I had failed the quiz.

I remember specifically that the accompanying article said I should be very organized and I absolutely was not. Yesterday I took a quiz on forbes.com that would gauge whether or not I should be an entrepreneur. It’s too late for me to heed anyone else’s advice — but I was heartened to get a decent score this time. Apparently, I’m only held back by my disorganization and the fact that I would jump the gun and start working on a project without a signed contract.

Could you be an entrepreneur? Could your child be an entrepreneur? A business owner? A freelancer? There may be natural traits that would lead one in that direction, but there are also skills you can develop by having the right sorts of learning experiences.

Risk tolerance is an oft-discussed entrepreneurial trait, but it’s frequently misunderstood. Risk tolerance doesn’t mean craving risk. It doesn’t mean entrepreneurs are danger junkies, like extreme sports fanatics who snowboard avalanches. Far from it — entrepreneurs want to make good decisions. They’re just willing to take calculated risks when they’re confident those risks have a good chance of paying off.

That willingness to take a risk is key.

Successful entrepreneurs are masters of taking good risks. They’re willing to bet on themselves.

If we accept that our children will be entrepreneurs in the future — CEOs of their work lives, if nothing else — how do we help them develop the confidence to believe in their ideas?

Is your child comfortable marching to the beat of a different drummer? Is he able to break free from the crowd to go his own way?

Investors need to be able to tolerate risk in order to reap rewards. Those who can’t tolerate risk will stick to the safest investments and therefore earn the least amount of return; over time, their nervousness will have a cumulative effect on what they’re able to accomplish. Successful investors — and entrepreneurs — can weigh options and take appropriate risks. They can get in the game — and you can’t win if you don’t play.

Investors must have the mental fortitude to ride out the ups and downs of the market. Likewise, entrepreneurs must have the fortitude to ride out the ups and downs of running a business. The reason that corporations take more of the profit share than employees is because they shoulder most of the risk. When times are hard, the employee who might find himself out of a job — the corporation keeps going. Shouldering the risk and taking on the responsibility gives you the decision power and the control. (Whether corporations wield their power responsibly is a whole other topic.)

Warren Buffett famously advised that an investor should “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” The entrepreneur is someone who essentially invests in himself. He has to be willing to take a right when everyone else is going left. When the economy is down and people are most fearful, an entrepreneur will start a new business. He sees opportunity where others only see risk. When the economy swings up again, the entrepreneur is poised to make the most of it. 

How do we help our children develop a tolerance for taking risks?

  1. We let them make mistakes, and we let them know mistakes are unavoidable when you’re doing any kind of significant work. We encourage resilience and confident problem-solving.
  2. We give them time to explore and experiment. We invest in their interests and passions.
  3. We don’t get in the way. We let them own their own work, their ideas, and their successes.
  4. We praise them for being strivers and problem-solvers rather than geniuses.
  5. We help them reflect on their choices and the outcomes. We help them connect the dots: effort, mistakes, persistence, resilience. We develop a family culture that celebrates doing, making, learning, and growing.

The most important thing about risk tolerance is that your child doesn’t let a fear of failure hold him back from working to make his ideas happen. He’s willing to invest in his own ideas. He’s willing to invest in himself.

The quote:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. — Helen Keller

Raising entrepreneurs: Financial literacy

Published by Lori Pickert on November 30, 2011 at 02:52 PM

If we want to set our children on a path toward being in control of their learning today and their adult lives in the future, we may as well start with money.

Financial aptitude is about managing money, but it’s also about learning how to set goals that reflect your values and priorities. Values and priorities come first, then goals, then the tough decisions and work to back them up.

Schools don’t teach finance. Every year, we graduate young adults who are financially illiterate. This should be a priority — what could be more basic for helping young people get their adult lives started off on the right foot? How is it that our kids graduate from high school and head to college without a clear understanding of how credit works? How is it that we have teenagers committing to school loans that will be dogging them for years (sometimes decades) without a clear understanding of either the loans (bankruptcy doesn’t erase school loans — they stay with you forever) or what they’re buying (witness all the 20-somethings who are in shock that they can’t find a job, or that their salaries are so low).

How do we teach this? One, transparency. We talk openly about budgets, investments, goals, values. Two, content. Along with the other real-life skills we have to pass on, we make sure they get the financial version of “the talk”. This is what happens when you charge a purchase to a credit card and don’t pay it off right away. This is how compound interest works. This is how a savings account works. This is how the stock market works.

The way we homeschool can affect how our children approach and manage their financial lives. Habits of mind acquired from project-based homeschooling connect directly to financial aptitude:

• the ability to make a plan and see it through,

• the ability to sacrifice in the short term for a long-term gain,

• researching and weighing various opinions,

• managing impulsivity,

and so on.

The most important thing a person needs is confidence — self-assurance that they can learn what they need to know and do the work necessary to achieve their goals. We need to make sure our children acquire that confidence — because it’s the key to everything else they’ll want to do in life — but their confidence must be authentic and based on real experiences. Many teenagers graduate from high school filled with false confidence and make some of their most important life decisions without a clear grasp of how the world works. We need to make sure our children do challenging, meaningful work and build up real thinking and learning skills.

Having a job can be very instructive for teens, but these lessons should — and can — start much earlier. Doing meaningful, long-term project work helps build a foundation of thinking and learning skills and real-life experience with goal-setting and problem-solving.

How important is it to you to teach financial literacy? Do you have a plan for how you’ll teach it?

Raising entrepreneurs

Published by Lori Pickert on November 29, 2011 at 08:48 PM

What skills do we need to nurture to help our children be entrepreneurial?

We see project-based homeschooling as being a path of control. Our children get the chance to have their own ideas and explore their own interests and talents. We help them direct and manage their own learning today, and we expect them to build strong thinking and learning habits that will serve them well as adults.

We believe that no matter what they want to do as adults, our children need to be in charge of their careers and treat themselves as a business. That’s the mindset we want to encourage — the mindset of a business owner rather than that of an employee. That’s the kernel of our entrepreneurial curriculum: control, managed risk, responsibility.

Rather than sending the message “You need to do x-y-z so you can get a good job,” we tell them “These are the skills that will help you manage your work life and do the things you want to do in life.”

Focusing on entrepreneurial skills doesn’t mean we pressure our children to work for themselves when they grow up. We simply tell them, you will be working for yourself. No one else is going to care about you or your family as much as you do. No one else is going to prioritize your goals; no one else is going to worry about your savings account. You will be in charge of you. The skills that a person needs to operate a business are the same skills you need to operate a life.

Tomorrow, I’ll start talking about the specific skills we emphasize.


Why aren’t we teaching them how to own?

Published by Lori Pickert on November 29, 2011 at 01:21 AM

Speaking forcefully and with great determination, President Obama mentioned small business at least five times in his American Jobs Act speech … telling Congress: “Everyone here knows that small business is where jobs begin.”

If entrepreneurship is this vital to the American economy, why aren’t we teaching every high school student in this country how to start and operate a small business?

I believe many do not know how to create opportunities for themselves…

Entrepreneurship education is a great way to teach basic subjects to children who are failing to learn through traditional academic approaches, because it provides concrete incentives. Owner-entrepreneurship education teaches young people that they can create jobs for themselves and do not have to be victims of this economic downturn but rather view it as an opportunity to start a business. It also makes them more employable because by running their own small businesses, they learn how business works and what makes an employee valuable. This shift in viewpoint can immeasurably benefit the psyche of an unemployed teenager, and also benefits companies that hire them.

Currently, our national strategy to combat poverty among low-income youth is built around improving K–12 education. That’s a good choice, yet we’re not teaching entrepreneurship, even though most Americans would probably agree with President Obama that small business is the driving engine of our economy.

Instead, most of our national education efforts seek to teach low-income youth to become better workers. Given the widening gap between rich and poor in this country, however, I’d like to raise one critical point: Why aren’t we also teaching them how to own? If entrepreneurship is the engine of the American economy, why aren’t we raising more creative owner-entrepreneurs like the Williams brothers?

On an income statement, workers are located on the “wages” line. Professional business owners, venture capitalists, and private equity firms have a distinct advantage in the creation of wealth because they can sell the profits generated by workers for a multiple of a business’s earnings. One dollar of profit can become $3, $10, or even $50.

This is how fortunes (and jobs) are created — an entrepreneur starts a business, sells some or all of its ownership, and uses the resulting capital to start and build other businesses that he or she can sell in the future, creating more capital. Workers, on the other hand, spend their lives selling only their time for hourly wages, or perhaps a salary.

Disadvantaged youth are seldom let in on this secret to wealth creation. I once asked a leading venture capitalist and philanthropist, who has donated millions to helping low-income children attend private schools, “What about teaching kids the ownership skills that made your fortune, so they can become financially independent?” He responded, only half-jokingly, But then who would do the work?”

Raising Owner-Entrepreneurs Would Solve Youth Unemployment, Spur Growth, and Rescue Low-Income Communities



Homeschooling entrepreneurs

Published by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2011 at 02:23 PM

The title of this post can be read in two ways, both of which are true for my family. One, we are entrepreneurs who are homeschooling. Two, we are homeschooling our children to be entrepreneurs.

I tried writing a post about this but it got overly long, so I’m going to turn it into a series. With eight more posting days this month, I can use the content.

I think this topic is of general interest because we are all entrepreneurs. All of our children will be entrepreneurs — because work life is changing. It’s already changed. Young people today change jobs seven times on average before the age of 30. No matter who signs your paycheck, you are the one in charge of running the business of you. You are the one who cares most about your work experience and your work/life balance. Employers are now more like clients, and statistically, your kids are going to have a lot of them.

So, before we get started...

Who here is running a business — or wants to?

What do you think your child’s work life might look like in 2032? Would you like to make entrepreneurial skills a part of his or her education?

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on January 29, 2011 at 03:01 PM

Two things to share today.

On a classic CCB post, a new comment and my answer, excerpted here:

I am curious, does this type of learner end up doing well in groups and capable of being a team player? Is the intractability saved mostly for Mom (I feel like this sometimes)? Do you seek out more group opportunties or is this child destined to be a independent worker or entrepreneur?

Group dynamics are very interesting. Natural leaders tend to lead, negotiators tend to negotiate, dynamic thinkers come up with ideas, detail-oriented kids manage quality control, and etc. — and, it’s important to stress, no one child fits only into one category. Again, they tend to be a mix of traits. In a group situation, one particular trait may stick out to the adults, and that child gets labeled and the adult moves on. But careful study and documentation can reveal secondary traits that are strong and important... [continued]

Read more at The Relentless Learner post.

And, another follow-up article to the Tiger Mom brouhaha, this time in the New Yorker:

On our bad days, we wonder whether this way of thinking is, as Chua might say, garbage. Last month, the results of the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, tests were announced. It was the first time that Chinese students had participated, and children from Shanghai ranked first in every single area. Students from the United States, meanwhile, came in seventeenth in reading, twenty-third in science, and an especially demoralizing thirty-first in math. This last ranking put American kids not just behind the Chinese, the Koreans, and the Singaporeans but also after the French, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Slovenians, the Estonians, and the Poles.

“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable,” Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, told the Times. “The United States came in twenty-third or twenty-fourth in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

Why is this? How is it that the richest country in the world can’t teach kids to read or to multiply fractions?


Taken as a parable, Chua’s cartoonish narrative about browbeating her daughters acquires a certain disquieting force. Americans have been told always to encourage their kids. This, the theory goes, will improve their self-esteem, and this, in turn, will help them learn.

After a generation or so of applying this theory, we have the results. Just about the only category in which American students outperform the competition is self-regard.

America’s Top Parent: What’s behind the Tiger Mother craze?

The last bit about self-regard reminded me of when we discussed perfectionism and praise. The previous part about how we can’t teach kids to read or multiply fractions reminded me of those other recent interesting articles attacking our educational system’s results.

As always, this is open thread so feel free to ask any question or discuss whatever you wish — and have a good weekend!


Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on April 17, 2009 at 01:20 PM

Here’s what I’m thinking about today:

Joanne Jacobs linked to this article in Slate: In the recession, does advanced education really pay off?

Interesting in general, but particularly this stuck with me:

And what about the people whose degrees and passions lie along paths that are eroding beneath them? As in, oh, the dear journalism students. Sam writes that when he started journalism school at the University of Missouri in 2004, “I was OK with the low pay expectations and was fully willing to start at the bottom of the food chain.” He promptly got a job at the local paper “and just as promptly, was laid off.” He's working at Applebee’s. “My question, I suppose, is this: For a person who had dreamed of covering sports for a newspaper (and developed few web-based skills to supplement his writing skills), what is the best option? Go back to school in a different area (which I can't afford), keep pushing my resume to those who aren't hiring anyway, or give up my dream for something more plausible?”

And here is something that I wrote last year but never got around to posting:

Sometimes it seems like education focuses on a best-case scenario. Go to a good school, get good grades, participate in extracurricular activities, get into a good college, get a degree, get a job, get a house and two cars and a big TV, be happy. We drop our children off at Kindergarten (or, these days, preschool) and their new sneakers and their shiny lunchboxes reflect our wish for them to be happy forever — to move seamlessly from one good place to another.

Are we fostering the attitudes our children need when things don’t go as planned?

How did we create this kid who was smart enough to get through college, smart enough to be a professional journalist, but evidently not smart enough to figure out how to create a new strategy when outside forces went against him?

There’s a lot of buzz lately about “21st century skills” (the so-called “soft skills” like critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and working cooperatively) and I tell you what — this is what it’s really about. It’s about how we drop the ball when we train kids to pick up skills and knowledge but somehow strip away their ability to think for themselves, weigh options, form opinions, and make decisions. When I read that bit about the journalism student, I couldn’t help picturing him as a confused little mouse wondering who moved his cheese.

Things don’t always go your way, you don’t always have control over everything, and sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. Even if you did everything you were supposed to do. Even if you got straight As. Even if you were the best employee. You are not entitled to a perfect life, even if you think you deserve one. Things go wrong.

Education should do more than prepare kids to fill job openings. It should prepare them to be something more than the sum of their salary and their possessions. It should strengthen their ability to deal with the unknown, not weaken it.