Crawl, Walk, Run: Business Lessons from a Toddler

My daughter mastered the art of persuasion before she could talk.

If she wanted someone to sit on the floor and play with her, she would plop herself down on the rug and stare them down. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t speak yet. She didn’t look away until they were forced to come join her. She just got creative and used the best resource available to her—her adorable stare.

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Most entrepreneurs are creative, determined, and resourceful. But very few of them are as creative, determined, and resourceful as toddlers.

That’s why I love spending time with kids. They never let ego get in the way of achieving a goal. They don’t care when they fall down, they’re not concerned with what anyone thinks of them, and they don’t think twice about entering a staring contest with a grown up.

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It takes unreal conviction to start a company.

Unreal: so strange as to appear imaginary. Incredible; amazing.

Founding a company is fundamentally an irrational act. You’ll make more money, more reliably, working for someone else.

Nothing you’re taught growing up trains you to make irrational decisions. In school, you learn to make decisions based on facts and reason. Your ability to make hard choices based on conviction declines because you stop exercising that muscle.

Too many entrepreneurs are soft.

Too many entrepreneurs don’t have conviction when they’re really pushed. Instead of having faith in their own decisions, they copy other people. Instead of doing what needs to be done, they paralyze themselves by overthinking every detail.

It’s scary to follow your instincts because you might mess up. And if you mess up, you’ll look dumb. But to start a new company, you can’t rely on the past. You can’t let ego get in the way. You have to make interesting connections and make new kinds of decisions.

Kids are so much better at this than their parents who tend to be close-minded. Children make interesting connections all the time, and don’t care what other people think or whether it was the right thing to do.

One time, I bought my son a new toy. As he opened it, I noticed that he was just as fascinated by the box the toy came in as he was by the toy itself.

The box itself was a toy, one that he could transform into a car, a fort or a house simply by thinking it. It was more than a container—it was magical. He ended up playing with just the box for more than an hour.

It’s just a mindset kids have in which they’re free and open, and are ready to connect two things together that rules might dictate don’t make sense together. They don’t have the ego that makes adults overthink and overcomplicate everything in their path.

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Kids learn how to do hard things all the time. It’s a slow and frustrating process to learn to run, for example, but they get there—incrementally. They learn an important lesson through trial and error:

You have to crawl before you can walk. You have to walk before you can run.

You have to apply this philosophy to everything you learn, whether it’s how to ride a bike or how to take your product to market. If you’re working on a new product and think it needs a bunch more features at once, you need to remember what stage of the learning process you’re in.

Take a step back and think to yourself, “I’m just crawling here. That’s okay. I’m still learning.” And when you do inevitably stumble along the way, don’t let the fall bruise your ego. Just get up and try again.

Kids know this. You never see a toddler fall down when they’re learning to walk and think, “Okay, that’s it. Walking just isn’t for me.”

Don’t let the fall bruise your ego. Just get up and try again.

If they’re not ready to walk yet, they find a creative way of getting from one side of the room to the other. They roll, they scooch on their stomach, or they stare down an adult who will come give them a hand.

Have conviction that you’ll find a way. Refuse to believe that you’re going to crawl for the rest of your life if you ever want to run.