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To Play by the Rules... or Not: What a Child Can Teach a Female Entrepreneur

09/17/2013 09:28 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2013
  • Penina Rybak Founder/CEO, Socially Speaking LLC, Founder: The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur

"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun." -- Katherine Hepburn

"Imagination rules the world." -- Napoleon Bonaparte

I consider myself a follower of rules, whether ethical in nature pertaining to my speech therapy license and faith, or civil, pertaining to my attempts to be a law abiding citizen in an age of identity theft and aggressive driving habits. However, I do believe and encourage people to keep asking "why not?", within reason. Asking "why not?" encourages individuality, creativity, and thinking "outside the box". We are living in the "iEra" where the question "why not?' has never been more relevant. I believe that one needs to be a lifelong student of the "why not" school of thought, to counteract inertia, boredom, and arrogance. Especially in today's day and age, where people are living longer lives, and having several career changes, in a more morally ambiguous and globally fragmented society.

We don't want to become another cog in the wheel; at home or at work, at the mercy of collective "group think", like the Borg from Star Trek the Next Generation!
It is therefore important to preserve our childish wonder and inquisitiveness, our ability to tap into our imaginations, and our sense of fun. All of which enriches our entrepreneurial journey, giving the competitive, solitary, sometimes grueling nature of this process its wings to be free, and connect us more with humanity.

A curious person is a person who never stops questioning, and therefore never stops learning. A curious person wants to understand things; about events and about people. Curiosity facilitates intellectual and emotional growth, because it fosters Theory of Mind (perspective and empathy); with one's environment, and those in it. Interestingly, society encourages young children to be curious, to explore, to ask questions, and to experience life, in all its mess and glory. Our collective experiences as children help grown women in particular wear many hats throughout the day, as we impact on the lives of others -- personally and professionally.

So what takeaways about life can I give female entrepreneurs, based on my extensive observations as both an educator/ human behaviorist and business woman? 

Life Lessons From A Child:

1. Be emotionally open. Be prepared to show kindness, honest passion, and vulnerability. Emote. Be emotionally engaged with others. 

2. Be curious. Invest in a current library card and/or technology classes/webinars/demos, to keep learning. Visit an Apple Store just because. Attend a workshop or conference, or try an online course from Coursera. Explore the outdoors. Converse with strangers. Travel. Near and far. Become adaptable.

3. Be industrious. Develop hobbies and skills. Try to expand them and apply what you have learned to other situations. Work hard. Play harder. Find that balance that works for you. Become better able to self regulate, and engage in more productive time management behaviors. 

4. Be honest. With yourself. With others. Ask for feedback. Provide accurate feedback. Politely. Humbly. Effectively. Humorously.

5. Be optimistic. Approach each new day and opportunity with enthusiasm, self confidence, and with humor, especially on those hard days. Be cheerful about the small things. Be resilient and stoic (after having a good cry) about the large things. Change the way you view obstacles, setbacks, and the unknown. Be in touch with your "inner child" who sees the wonder all around. 

6. Be present. Live in the moment. Don't dwell on the past or fret about the future. Enjoy what you have, and what you are doing at this moment in time. Embrace the now. 
7. Be eager to tell and hear stories. Use your listening skills. Hone your imagination and flair for drama. Pay attention. Ask questions. Make time for stories again.

Have you ever seen children at play? There is a rule book that we somehow learn as children but throw away as adults. Some rules are meant to be kept. Some are meant to be broken or discarded. Some are meant to be reinterpreted and revised. I am reminded of one of the best essays on Rules to Live By, "All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum.

Diane Bertolin also writes about children and Rules to Discard in her thought-provoking blog post about the child archetype and implications for business practices. Children are "guardians of responsibility and innocence... also representative of new beginnings. No one is born an adult. Likewise, businesses do not exist outside a life cycle. Businesses are started, hopefully grow, mature, and eventually die, but it doesn't mean they cannot be resurrected."

Marty Zwilling, one of the best thought leaders on entrepreneurship to date, advocates for more fluid interpretations of set rules as needed. He supports rules, and is known to write helpful lists, especially in his blog, Startup Professional Musings. In it, he recently wrote about Rules to Revise. He stated the need for revision of certain rules in the Entrepreneurial Playbook, when embarking on a venture to promote change,  and help others solve a problem or make a difference in quality of life.

At the end of the day, retaining our childish imagination, innocence, optimism, transparency, and enthusiasm for our daily routines, is what spurs the creative process and innovation that all entrepreneurs aspire to. It is why social entrepreneurship will be the new wave, and is a large component of the DNA of my own mission. It is why I am drawn to positive, humane thought leadership from the likes of Rieva Lesonsky and Geri Stengel.

Entrepreneurship has always been redefined as tech/cultural/economic trends shift. But the rapidly increasing shifts means that it will now become a more individualistic yet collaborative, fluid process and venue for people, especially women to partake of.

Isn't that kind of like the inner workings of a child's mind at play?

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