Mary Mazzio – filmmaker-in-residence at entrepreneurial hotbed Babson College – has made a name for herself chronicling the success stories of business innovators. In today’s society, she says, “You have an obligation to be entrepreneurial. You have to ask how to create value for customers, how to run a better and more responsible business. You can’t just be a cog in the machine anymore.” In Lemonade Stories, she interviewed entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Arthur Blank (of Home Depot fame) alongside their moms. In Ten9Eight, Mazzio profiled a group of inner-city youth entering a business plan competition. And in her latest film, The Apple Pushers, she chronicles the story of five immigrant micro-entrepreneurs addressing America’s obesity crisis by selling fruits and vegetables in pushcarts across underserved parts of New York City.
The concept of the film – underwritten by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, which also funded efforts to expand the number of “green carts” – appealed to Mazzio because, she says, “I thought it was really creative to use the concept of free enterprise to address the problem. This kind of philanthropy is bold and messy – not all the entrepreneurs are going to make it. But the ones that do are going to prosper and grow, and there will be an ongoing source of fresh fruits and vegetables in new areas.”
So what has Mazzio learned from interviewing global entrepreneurs? Her surprising answer is that entrepreneurship can be taught – and her films have inspired her to raise her own children differently. Here are four lessons from the world’s top business leaders that Mazzio has incorporated into her family’s life.
Shyness is No Excuse. “My son was shy when he was younger,” recalls Mazzio, and she would make excuses for him. But after interviewing the mother of Richard Branson, she learned that Branson had also been extremely shy in his youth. Says Mazzio, “Eve would have none of it and would say to Richard, ‘You are going to stick your hand out and shake. Stop thinking of yourself and how you feel, and start thinking of the other person.’” So Mazzio required her then-eight-year-old son to greet adults with a handshake, a look in the eye, and a thoughtful question – “and he learned very quickly there was a huge upside to engaging adults.”
Make Room for Inspiration. Where do entrepreneurs get their best ideas? According to Mazzio, it may result from having the space to think creatively. “Creativity has been drummed out of the school curriculum,” she says. “Between playdates and organized sports, adults micromanage every inch of a kid’s life today. When a kid comes to you and says ‘I’m bored,’ that’s not the time to jump in the car and drive to Toys R Us – they have to think of ways to entertain themselves.” In the process, kids will learn to solve their own problems and take initiative – traits every entrepreneur needs.
Earning Money Means Independence. Mazzio is a fan of early, real world entrepreneurship, whether it’s the proverbial lemonade stand or a teenage tech venture. But it’s not because of the money itself. Rather, the process of earning it gives kids “a sense of freedom and independence,” says Mazzio. That empowerment is especially valuable for at-risk youth such as those she profiled in Ten9Eight, who may not see the value in school – until running a business convinces them that math is applicable to daily life, and good writing skills are necessary to create winning business plans that investors will fund.
Failure is Underrated. The value of entrepreneurship isn’t just in creating successful businesses, says Mazzio. Entrepreneurship is a way of life and a way of thinking – and that inevitably means you’ll sometimes fall short. “People talk about failure in such a derogatory context,” she says, “but you can only learn from failure. The greatest entrepreneurs are the people who can get up and pull themselves back after failure. You learn a little with each failure that expands your character, informs your ideas, and makes you think creatively about how to achieve what doesn’t seem achievable.”
What have you learned from watching – or being – an entrepreneur? What are your strategies for raising entrepreneurial kids? We’d love to hear your success stories.
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.