What are We Teaching Our Kids?

In the process of teaching my son some mathematics, letter recognition, and writing I found myself committing the gravest of wrongs. Understandably the poor guy was getting bored with practicing letters. Who could blame him?

“Ok buddy, 10 more minutes and then we can go for a swim”

10 minutes passed and unsurprisingly not a heck of a lot was accomplished. What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s the mindset of valuing time over productivity, that’s what’s wrong with it. Some might call it the employee mindset but we all know that employees as well as business owners come in all flavours so lets not be judgmental. 10 more letters rather than ten more minutes and now the objective is far clearer and I’m far more likely to get results. I don’t want to be teaching my children that time spent doing something has any value in and of itself. It’s the results that matter. Stupid me, I should have known better, kids are smart and will figure out pretty quickly that all that is required is to “do the time” for 10 minutes voila of to the pool we go. Why write letters for 10 minutes when you can throw stuff, pick your nose or annoy your sibling? This brings up the distraction topic I spoke recently about.

I don’t and shouldn’t care if those “10 more letters” take 30 seconds as opposed to 10 minutes. In fact I should be overjoyed when they do. This is called productivity gains and do we not want our children to be productive rather than clock watchers? I believe education should always be exciting and adventurous. Learning ones letters by looking at the boring squiggles on a page is hardly exciting or adventurous and is not the best means my wife and I have found of accomplishing this goal. Dropping the responsibility of a day out onto our children for example, accomplishes the same task but with far more vigor and excitement. If you’ve got young kids try handing the road map over to them to navigate a day out complete with ordering meals, filling the car with gas and buying items. Public transport, metro or subway maps, you name it. It’s their job to navigate and handle the day out. You’ll possibly land up in places you never knew existed, but I assure you your kids will be learning how to read maps, recognize letters, understand bus routes, count change, and for an added bonus if you’re in a foreign country tell them they can have an ice-cream if they can tell you how much it will cost in your home currency. In no time at all you’ll have your 5 year olds reading FX spot rates and they’ll never even know they’re “at school”, but I digress.

The state schooling system that exists today was designed for the last century, a century dominated by the industrial revolution. It does little to foster independent, productive thoughts and actions. The average schooling day consists of time slots rather than task slots. If every business owner measured their success by the time they spent on and in their business, rather than the results generated from time spent what are their odds of success in a competitive market place? The collapse of the USSR showed us the true genius of measuring by time rather than efficiency and productivity and it killed people…literally. Clearly this is serious stuff. This seems self evident but at the same time I see grown adults doing this every day. I understand the mindset and changing that mindset is no small shift. I myself was unfortunate enough to have had a state schooling of the worst kind. As you can see I’m still trying to undo it. The quality I look for in a business and management in particular, is a mindset dedicated to results rather than “clocking time”.

In a now past life I worked with people who would clock long hours at work but failed to accomplish much. There were essentially two categories of employee. Those who would make sure the boss saw them “putting the hours in” even though they were racking up the hours courtesy of online poker, or browsing the web for weekend activities. Complimentary to them were those who where merely incompetent rather than deceivingly lazy and spent far longer doing any task than is required. Then of course we have the stereotypical employee who, as soon as their time was up they were out the door in a blur of movement which if you had cared to watch their state of lethargy for the previous 9 hours would have left you wondering what vitamins they had just ingested. I’m sure many of you can identify with this phenomenon, after all its nothing new, just human nature at work. It was always easy to spot the contractors who were paid for a specific job completed, rather than a salary. At times they would leave mid day and other times they’d be there till 3am and online poker never featured.

Not too long ago I had an experience with an entrepreneur who was aghast that I placed zero value on his previous 3 years sweat that he had put into his startup. Why you might ask?

It’s not the first time I’ve come across a business that has failed to find its footing over a significant time frame. It’s a troubling starting point but what is important is to realize that where there are NO RESULTS there is no tangible value yet, but merely potential value. They’re completely different animals. Furthermore his strategy had not changed one iota in those 3 years. He had now burnt through all the seed capital that he had managed to raise and was wanting more.

Everyone has opinions, but this is not an opinion its a self evident fact. I’m not making a statement where a  business idea has no value or that an entrepreneur have no value. It’s simply saying “you have yet to produce value from your idea”. It’s an idea and you have not succeeded in turning it into a profitable venture. Maybe you will and maybe you won’t. I can value the idea and value an individuals ability to put it into production for profit, but I cannot give value to the fact that you have spent an enormous amount of time on it. Note this is different from providing results in the way of researching a market where time is spent doing so. The research itself is a result that has value, but not the time.

I don’t care how long you have been “going at it”. In fact if you have been working on it for an extended period of time and your efforts thus far have resulted in no tangible value then it’s entirely possible that you are pig-headed and not adapting to the results that are being thrown at you. No point in beating a dead horse…at least not with my money!

The best entrepreneurs I’ve found are those that are flexible. Determination is a great quality but determination without flexibility and the ability to adapt is simply pig-headed, stubborn and usually ends in disaster.

On the flip side I’ve seen smart entrepreneurs who have ultimately succeeded in their businesses by being flexible. The end results have been a business that was never conceived of at the beginning. This is because there is an adapting process in all businesses. Some more than others, but all businesses will experience changes that they had not foreseen. What differentiates a great business mind from a poor or mediocre one is the ability to deal with these changes and challenges and take advantage of them.

Results are the real measure and the clock merely a timescale to benchmark results by. i.e how long has it taken to do xyz. The core underlying theme is that you are measuring the results and NOT the timeframe as a result. I hope in future I can instill this simple but powerful concept in my children.



“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” – Mark Twain


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Joy

    The topic of educating children with life skills rather than outdated school systems is something every parent should read about. Most of us never thought outside of the square. I especially liked the possible scenario of the children leading you into another country and buying an ice cream in foreign currency.
    Your comments about being an entrepreneur in business are relevant to the situation I find myself in at the moment. Time to make changes! Thank you for the interesting and informative articles.

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