My son and I chat about his future all the time. Like a lot of boys his age, he’s certain he wants to be a DARPA engineer. Yesterday he changed his tune.
“You know what Daddy? I think it’d be cooler to own a business like you do.”
I beamed, “Why the change man?”
“All you do is have coffees with people. You don’t actually do anything.”
“Brandon! You finally get it!” I crowed. “Study to be the best engineer you can be so you know what to look for when you’re hiring other engineers to do the work that you sell.”
The most important skill for our kids to develop is how to tell a compelling story. Talented people are everywhere but the ability to sell the production of that talent is not. With youth unemployment at historical highs and folks delaying retirement, the current supply of fantastic talent and ingenuity far exceeds the capacity of our economies to absorb. Correspondingly, the cost for that talent is more affordable now than ever to anybody with a good idea and the ability to tell a story. Regardless of shifting demographics due to aging and dropping birthrates, there will always be far fewer buyers of talent than people with talent. This lifelong arbitrage only exists for folks who can sell. When you see a typical job fair anywhere in the world, with thousands of attendees looking for work, you’ll want your child to be the buyer and re-seller of that talent. Even if you hate the idea of selling or self-promotion, don’t ruin it for your kids. In their generation of abundant, globalized labour, their livelihoods depends on their ability to sell and tell authentic, empowering stories more than ever. For every graduate who emerges top of his class, there’s another who has achieved the same academic excellence and is able to craft a better story about why they are the obvious choice. No matter your kid’s genius, if he can’t tell a compelling story to attract opportunity, he will always work for somebody who can. Selling is story telling. It always has been and it always will be.
Encourage your kids to seek the guidance of business owners, because who lives more for the sale than the entrepreneur? Encourage your kids to be business owners, even if it’s just themselves and a buddy in the business. Having a profitable business, no matter how small, allows them the time to play with what they actually love – as long as someone else is managing the work. If they’ve started a business once, they will know how to start another and another, learning from failures but always failing forward. We’re encouraged to diversify our investments but not encouraged to diversify our main sources of income. Any entity with a single payer, whether an employee, a small business, or our healthcare system (ahem… that’s for another day…), is at the mercy of the payer. The loss of one customer out of thirty is far less disastrous than the loss of an employer, no matter how prestigious you think your job title is.
So when the time comes, don’t tell your kid to find a job. Tell him to find a customer. Then find a friend to do the job he just sold. And then go find another customer. And another. But most importantly, when the time comes, tell him that it’s always OK to try and fail so long as he never stops trying. Because with every attempt, his stories will become all the more awesome to tell. And in the end, stories are always what sells.