As a serial entrepreneur, I have learned my fair share of lessons from pure experience and really wise people. Yet in the past few years, as I have read hundreds of books to my young sons at home, I have often been struck by how many entrepreneurial lessons are in children’s stories.
The simple messages in children’s books often reveal sage wisdom applicable for business leaders. Here are just a few examples:
Rules are made to be broken. Library Lion offers an excellent parallel for any entrepreneur who has ever pursued novel ways of doing things and ways of thinking that don’t conform with a broader industry. You will feel as out of place as a lion in a library at times. And while it is often wise to conform to the rules of an industry to be welcomed by its constituents, you must also know when it is time to break those rules … and be prepared to leave your library after you roar.
Anticipate obstacles and have solutions ready. The Gruffalo, one of my boys’ favorite books, shares a powerful message. Early on in an entrepreneur’s journey, it is easy to feel like a mouse in a forest, navigating the likes of a fox, owl or snake all interested in eating you. Thinking several steps ahead will allow you to outthink some large and fierce competitors. While the creativity of the mouse’s solutions is memorable, it is his confidence and conviction of message to competitors that particularly stands out. Make others fear and respect your Gruffalo!
You cannot change the nature of people. The Scorpion and the Frog, a fable about a scorpion convincing a frog to carry him across the river and then stinging him midway, holds an important lesson for entrepreneurs. It rarely happens that a person’s nature can be changed, so don’t fool yourself. It’s important when you are hiring employees to check references and make sure you understand the true nature of someone’s personality and work style.
Beware of who you let into your house. Dr. Seuss books in general are filled with valuable lessons, and The Cat in the Hat is no exception. I don’t care if he is flashy, funny and fun, if you let the Cat in the Hat into your home, you are going to have a mess to deal with. Whether an employee, partner or investor, focus on substance, not flash. Yes, the Cat in the Hat will help you get noticed … but as they inevitably create problems in their pursuit of excitement, you will discover that few Cats in the Hat have a Thing 1 and Thing 2 to clean up their messes.
Be open to seeing an unexpected positive outcome. My boys have outgrown the board book A Good Day, but its message is powerful for business and life. When something is not going according to plan, stay positive. If you step back, take a look and keep a positive attitude, you might realize that this challenge put you on a path for more success than you ever anticipated.
Management and leadership best-sellers are often good reads, but don’t forget to embrace the simple wisdom of a children’s story to learn how to navigate your entrepreneurial journey. If nothing else, you and your kids will appreciate the quality time away from the startup world … a lesson unto itself.