Keith Cowing

Keith Cowing

Product guy. Entrepreneur.
Read full bio

10 Things Your Toddler Can Teach You About Running a Business

March 26, 2012

toddler-teaching

As a proud member of the crazy ones (entrepreneurs who run businesses and have families), I have seen my share of chaos. Yet raising a family comes with a sense of purpose different from anything else I have experienced. While I try to teach my son, he teaches me just as much in return. Here are ten things a toddler can teach you about running a business.

1. Communicate with short, clear messages
When a toddler learns to talk, you don’t teach them long, complicated sentences. You start with the basics. The funny thing is, you can communicate most critical messages with very few words. You don’t have a five page reason for why you buy Apple products (they’re simple and beautiful), eat at McDonald’s (it’s cheap and convenient), or shop at Zappos (they have great customer service). So don’t give a five page answer for why somebody should buy your product, work at your company, or invest in you. Keep your messages short and clear, that’s what makes them powerful.

2. Create a fun environment
Kids quickly take on the vibe around them. If you’re mad and stressed, they’ll be mad and stressed. If you’re happy and excited about life, they’ll have high spirits and everything becomes easier. I can’t claim that they’ll want to sleep when you want to sleep (parents only wish), but you absolutely set the tone. The same thing goes at the office. Too many companies seem intent on creating workplaces where people are miserable. Make things fun, lighten up the mood, and take care of your team. Everybody will be happier AND more productive.

3. Repeat yourself ad nauseam
Repeating yourself as a parent gets old, but if you’re ridiculously consistent you’ll generate the right habits over time. BMW is “the ultimate driving machine” and I don’t know that because they told me once, twice, or three times, I have seen it and heard it everywhere for years. Now I can’t forget it (notice that the message is short and clear). It sounds silly, but repeating your messages constantly, everywhere, is what ingrains your branding in people’s minds so that you become unmistakable.

4. Reward people frequently
Wall Street bonuses are probably the worst way to reward performance. They are giant, unpredictable lump sums paid at the end of the year. There is little transparency, lots of politics, and no loyalty to stay the day after the deposit clears. Would I reward my son after 3 weeks of good behavior? Goodness no. He should be rewarded right away. Adults really aren’t any different. Here’s the secret, the rewards don’t have to big! Take your team to an awesome lunch, buy them iPads, congratulate them in front of their peers. Sometimes it’s simply the act of rewarding people that matters, not the dollars that change hands.

5. Have a plan for everything
After having a kid, I became a lot less capable of flying by the seat of my pants. I used to wake up 20 minutes before leaving the house and as long as I showered, dressed and grabbed my wallet everything else would fall into place. With kids, you plan ahead for everything, coordinate schedules, and make contingency plans. That mindset holds well for running a business. Identify what you need to accomplish every day, week, and quarter. Discuss the opportunities and potential road blocks and plan for all of them. If you practice audibles with your team then you simply need to call the right play during the game and everybody knows what to do.

6. Understand that nothing will go as planned
Plans are wonderful and you should make them. But…life’s never that simple. There’s a balance between making plans and quickly adjusting when everything changes. Successful stock traders win not because they make better bets, but because they recognize their mistakes quicker and minimize losses. Top football teams win because they have a solid game plan and then make the right in-game adjustments. Treat your business as a game in progress. Your work is never done and you’re always ready to adjust when necessary.

7. Practice what you preach
Don’t feed somebody grilled chicken every day and talk about a nutritious diet while you eat french fries. It’s simple and extremely easy to see. Lead or don’t lead. But if you choose to lead, lead with your actions first.

8. Be authentic
Faking it doesn’t work. Kids are very perceptive and remind you to stick with your true personality. This should carry over into your professional life as well. Forge a career that you are truly passionate about and work at a company where you fit the culture. Otherwise you’re stuck faking it and that never leads to long-term success or happiness.

9. Build true loyalty and it will not be broken
Few bonds are as strong as a parent and a child. People will do anything for the family members they love. Build that relationship stronger and stronger over time and nothing will break it. The same is true for building teams. If your team is full of people who think of themselves first and have no loyalty, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s the tightly knit teams that stand up for each other and win the tough battles. Loyalty isn’t built overnight and it doesn’t come free – you have to earn it. So earn it.

10. Remember that shi$ happens
That’s right, it happens. As a matter of fact, it happens all the time! Sometimes you have to clean up after a mess and move on without letting things bother you. Don’t take yourself too seriously. That’s one of the secrets to life.

Comments

  • watsonrm

    Great note Keith.  Love all these tips, and they ring true.  Hope you’re doing well.

  • Palani Subbiah

    Great article. I will repost.

  • Mcowing

    nice job keith!! i remember when…. xoxox

View Archives