Friday, December 25, 2020

The attribute every candidate needs but no company requires.

While the title of this article is not entirely accurate, statistically it is mostly correct. In a search on, one of the top global job boards, there are 16,106 jobs with the word for this attribute in the job description. In contrast, a search for communication comes up with 968,170 jobs (an almost 6,000% difference!!!). Even coffee has twice as many results with 34, 585. Francesca Gino in her HBR article on the subject states that managers are more likely to stifle this attribute than to encourage it. This is despite common assertions (backed up by various studies) that employees with this characteristic are better problem solvers, more engaged in their work, and overall more successful in their careers.

Why is such an important quality ignored by the majority of organizations when there are such obvious benefits. Perhaps the following quote by Albert Einstein gives us a clue:

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

What manager wants an employee who is constantly questioning why they have to do something or do it in a certain way. Most businesses have set processes and procedures and simply need an automaton to complete the task the way they have been told. Even firms who publicly seek "problem-solvers" are not looking for people to discover new ways of doing things. They just want them to deal with issues that come up so that they can quickly get back to their routine jobs.

In a 2017 article in the Atlantic, curiosity is an indicator for future academic success. The author points out that it seems to be linked to happiness and satisfaction in relationships as well. From an academic standpoint, curiosity is being compared to IQ in its ability to predict success in school. It is interesting to consider though how very little curiosity is actually "required" to achieve that success. Our kids do not need to wonder at how a caterpillar can transform into a butterfly, they just need to be able to select "metamorphosis" as the right vocabulary word from the four options on the multiple-choice test. Our education system, at least in most schools, from elementary up through undergraduate is based on regurgitating facts and ideas that are considered "correct".

So while it is not specifically necessary for our kids to be curious in order to do well in school and life it is most definitely a plus. We all want our kids to be happy and that makes it worth the effort to encourage curiosity in our children.

When I started researching how to instill curiosity in my kids it was perhaps not terribly surprising that "positive reinforcement" came up as the first suggestion. One of my favorite books growing up was "Why are there more questions than answers Grandpa?" (out of print and $795 on Amazon!) by Kenneth Mahood. In the book, a young boy drives his Grandfather crazy with endless questions like, "Would hitting a nail on the head give it a headache?" or "Can my funny bone tell jokes?" Finally, the old man sends his grandson to clean the attic where he finds a book to answer all his questions. Much hullabaloo ensues and our young hero succeeds in turning the tables and the book ends with Grandpa asking all the questions. The grandfather in this book is an excellent example of how NOT to encourage curiosity. If asking questions is viewed by our kids as a bad thing they will stop asking and eventually stop wondering. 

The other approach for raising curious kids is one you will recognize from many of my previous articles, role modeling. Kids mimic us and learn what is acceptable early on by watching what we do and how we act. If we ask questions, take the time to satisfy our curiosity, show enthusiasm about learning new things, then our kids will likely follow our lead. Make an effort to verbalize your queries so that our kids see and hear what we are thinking. Rather than doing a quick search on google quietly to find an answer to your question, wonder out loud about it and maybe even ask your 3 year old what they think about it!

“I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

― Eleanor Roosevelt

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

How much are you going to pay me?

Teaching our kids about money is something that can start at a very early age. Yes, perhaps the end of cash will happen in our lifetime. Maybe our kids will see a day in the (near) future when they don't need a wallet anymore. I  imagine my grandchildren someday asking me, "Grandpa, what's a penny?" But, even as how we pay changes from coins to cards to bytes, I doubt that we will return to a barter system anytime soon. So, the idea of money and how our kids handle it is going to be important.

In my previous article about marshmallows, we learned that money, and saving for something can help our kids learn about delayed gratification (which is a good thing). Kids and later adults who have learned to put off a small reward now in exchange for a larger reward later are more likely to advance in their careers and in some studies were shown to be just plain happier. Keep in mind that this does not work if there is always enough money available to get what they want without having to save and wait. We all want to give our kids everything but tightening the purse strings can make for a better lesson.

In addition to the discipline our kids can learn from saving, there are more practical reasons to start them early with a few bitcoins of their own. With their own money, they will need to understand budgeting (spending less than they earn). Having money of their own makes any discussion (lecture) about investment just a bit more interesting. It is not so hard to make up easy to understand examples to explain interest and compounding returns. "What if you could put that dollar under your mattress and when you take it out the next day instead of 1 dollar there were 2 dollars?" With an understanding of what a "dollar" (or yen or rupee or peso...) is our kids can start to see what the costs are for basic things they have lived with their whole lives. You might be surprised at how little even the teenagers in your house know about actual costs. I recall a Mother at my son's school talking about her older daughter. She had recently returned home for the first time since heading off to college. The daughter, with a dismayed look on her face, came up to her Mom and shared a discovery she had made living on her own, "Mom! You would not believe how much toilet paper costs! Who knew?" The Mom rolled her eyes and responded with, "Who do you think has been stocking our bathroom your whole life?" 

This preamble leads to my real question. Should I pay a weekly/monthly allowance or is a pay-per-job approach better? I am leaning towards the pay-per-job option. A regular allowance seems like it could be quickly perceived as an entitlement. Even if we assign tasks that need to be completed to "earn" the allowance, I can imagine that 1) the money will not be enough of an incentive to do the work or 2) We will end up paying anyway even when the work is not done. This would create a bad precedent. The downside of the pay-per-job approach is there are chores that I think should be "part of the family" jobs like keeping their room clean or clearing the table after dinner. If a culture of "How much are you going to pay me to do that?" develops we are again, not building positive habits. I remain undecided...

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Wait for it...

I love the "Second Marshmallow" test. My wife and I have been annoying our 2 kids with it for the last 19 years. Whenever one of them starts whining about wanting something immediately we will respond with "wait for the 2nd marshmallow". The first time we say it, we have to then explain what we mean by it. By the hundredth time, they don't care and are just exasperated with us. But my wife and I still get a kick out of it.

What is the "Second Marshmallow" test you ask? Well, back in 1972 a psychologist at Stanford University decided to run an experiment. 16 boys and 16 girls aged between 3 and 5 years old were invited to participate. Each child was led into a room and seated at a table. A marshmallow was then placed in front of them at the table. The child was told that they could eat the marshmallow now if they wished. However, if they waited for 15 minutes without eating it, they would then get not only the original marshmallow but 1 additional marshmallow!

The researchers were trying to determine when we learn control. How old are we when we can decide to delay instant gratification for a bigger reward later? I am not going to get into the results of the initial experiment. For this article, the follow-up studies and findings are much more interesting. Angela Duckworth summed it up nicely in the following quote:

"Children who had been able to wait for fifteen minutes for their treat had SAT scores that were on average, 210 points higher than those children who had rung the bell after thirty seconds."

But, the findings were not limited to SAT scores, 20 yeas later, the adults who had shown the ability to wait had "lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents..." ¹

If we know that kids that can delay gratification generally go further, how do we train that in our babies? Seriously, if our kids can grow into adults who can consider two job offers and then take the one that offers long-term growth over the one with the big upfront salary won't that be a good thing?

One suggestion I read was to hide temptation. While I can understand that it is easier to delay gratification when the item of desire is out of sight, I am not convinced that it teaches our kids control. The idea of control is to manage their desire when the temptation is right there! But... maybe there is a way to take advantage of the "out of sight, out of mind" function of our kid's brains. Teaching our kids the tools for self-distraction might be useful. When patience is required, talk about how you often come up with fun things to do to pass the time (role modeling is more effective than preaching). "When I have to wait, sometimes I sing a song to pass the time. Shall we sing one together?" Feel free to plug in whatever age-appropriate distraction you think is suitable.

If you have read my other articles you know that I am not completely opposed to bribery. Rewards can have some impact here as well. When our kids show that they can wait, or exhibit other aspects of self-control, reward it. Ideally, rewarding them as a surprise rather than promising them something upfront. Positive reinforcement generally works well to create habits.

Money, yes money can help to teach control. Giving your child an allowance or the opportunity to earn money from chores then opens up the chance for you to teach them about saving. I like to get kids started with a bank account early on rather than the piggy bank but for these purposes either should work. Saving is inherently about delayed gratification. If your daughter keeps putting pennies into her bank she will eventually have more pennies and can buy something bigger. This approach aligns nicely with the challenge above of visible temptation. Most things your kids will need money to buy will not be sitting around the house and in sight all the time.

Finally, don't let your son see you eating that cupcake at 3pm. Contradictions with what you do and what you see will erase all credibility. Maybe this will help us to learn some self-control as well!