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How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off, by Adam Grant

Stashed in: Creativity, Luck!, Awesome, Parents, Parenting, Give and Take, Grit, Parenting, Black Swans!, Fear The Walking Dead

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Adam Grant throws down the gauntlet against what I think of as the "Asianification" of the elite American education system. Creativity may just never come from "excellent sheep", no matter how much parents want to believe that being obedient and doing well within the system will lead to breakthroughs in professional life.

The thing that stuck with me from this article is the study where the parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime.

Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.

Meaning many of them had no rules.

So from what I can tell, recognized genius and being a "revolutionary" is far more a matter of luck than talent. Talent is cheap. Luck, that mix of being born at the right time, being surrounded by the right people - at the right time - having access to right resources - at the right time - having the right timing for your revolutionary product or idea. These all seem a matter of luck. Hell, being able to identify your passion early, when you are good at a lot of things is lucky. The best way to raise a genius who wins a Nobel Prize is to be lucky. 

Now if we looked at the whole pool of people raised with few or no rules, compared to those who were, what are their qualities of life? Who are, on average, happier?

I do agree that encouraging passion is a good idea, because at least then children are perhaps a little more likely to do work they enjoy. But structure, and grit are vital to get things done. The hard part is how to push just slightly beyond a child's comfort level to keep her challenged, but at a pace she can handle. It will vary with every child. 

I think you're absolutely right James... so much of it is luck. Also let's face it, the vast majority of parents aren't necessarily in the business of trying to raise a Nobel Prize winner -- they want kids who are healthy and well-adjusted and able to make a good living.

But as I understand Adam Grant's project, he is trying to take lessons from super high achievers -- Nobel prize winners and Steve Jobs and that -- and see what he can take away to enlighten normal people who are facing normal issues in their daily lives. And one of the biggest things I think many parents are anxious about today is that they are not sure if "the rules" they were taught are going to be as relevant in the future. Should you encourage little Alice and Bob to stay in school despite exploding tuition costs, or to be entrepreneurial? Should you assume there will be full employment in 50 years or robot slaves for a better world? Should you push your child to learn Mandarin or JavaScript or gene editing or screenwriting? Those are questions I see parents grappling with quite a bit.

Another set of questions might be, where does "grit" come from? Is it something your parents can teach you by pushing you just slightly past your comfort level? Or is it something that comes from desperately wanting to do a particular thing that you love, even if your parents think it's stupid and a waste of time? In Adam Grant's case, he was obviously a super amazing student by any standard -- youngest tenured professor at Wharton, winner of teaching awards, etc. -- but he realized when he was writing his first book that HE WAS HOLDING HIMSELF BACK by not wanting to say things that people disagreed with. And I assume he found that a lot of people were in the same boat, because his book was a bestseller :)

Adam Grant is a business school professor, so he is really interested in how ordinary people in business can solve business problems in everyday life. Businesses very frequently have issues where their sales might be declining or product isn't shipping on time... and those challenges are an opportunity for people to either step up with "different" aka "creative" solutions, or choose not to -- and obviously other people can respond in a variety of ways to these new ideas. Grant is very interested in exactly HOW these common tensions get successfully negotiated in groups -- particularly in how a few key players might be the key to "saying something that needs to be said despite risk to themselves", or "silently supporting" ideas in structural ways (e.g. quietly moving funds to get more headcount for one group rather than another).

Going back to your original point about luck or circumstance... one of my personal heroes is Ulysses S Grant, because he was a failure at everything in life except winning the Civil War. He met his moment in the biggest way possible, despite the fact that nothing he had done beforehand could have particularly predicted his success. I think a lot of people have an uneasy sense that we could be heading into some kind of "Black Swan" historical change, and that perhaps the people who are healthy and well-adjusted and able to make a good living aren't necessarily the ones who are going to best meet the improbable challenges of the near future.

I like that story of Ulysses S. Grant. Time to watch Ken Burns' Civil War again...

A failure is a far more teachable moment than a success. Being willing to fail can be one of the hardest things to learn. I would argue tough times are far more easily negotiated by those who have experienced a fair bit of failure. 

The notion of the "Black Swan" moment is interesting. That's kind of the premise of Fear the Walking Dead, where the selfish addict is the better survivor. 

Yes, exactly! The "excellent sheep" are clearly the ones who are best adapted to life today -- they do well in school, get along socially, hold lucrative jobs, don't clash with authority, etc. -- but what happens if the world suddenly changes? A major pandemic, a sudden tipping point in sea-level rise, a dirty nuke, or AI gone bad... those could all happen, and I think would impact coastal city-dwellers more than average. Would your senior manager at the office REALLY be the one who organized the group for survival? Or would it maybe be the selfish addict or the Ulysses S Grant type?

Right now it's hard to predict who will shine in a crisis. Although I think that has partially to do with a lack of understanding. It hasn't been scientifically codified yet. 

I think there is also likely to be a lot of contextual specificity. What I mean by that is, a person will respond well to one kind of crisis, but not well to another. 

I do think "excellent sheep" can be remarkable in a crisis. Based on what I've read about those who shine in war, those who turned out to be excellent leaders in battle did not usually fit the stereotype of a warrior; while those with the most military training could be liability. In addition, those who are lucky enough to survive their first few combats tend to be far more likely to survive subsequent ones, so I suspect there is a significant learning component.

I think it is worth studying it more. 

Definitely worth studying more, but I'd imagine it would be difficult to craft experiments well.

I cannot imagine anyone wanting to be referred to as an excellent sheep. :)

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