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Kids and Businesses Should Both Grow Up

kidsWithin a few weeks of the birth of our first child, Diane and I were already imagining and anticipating how it would be when he was all grown up, had graduated from college and was out on his own. We had these same conversations after the birth of all three kids.

From very early on we really looked forward to having adult children whom we could enjoy, and with whom we could build adult relationships. We’re now reaping the rewards of those early years of investment and simply couldn’t have better kids to be around.

We haven’t stopped being parents (we were never fans of being “your kid’s best friend”), and will continue to always play a role in giving unwanted advice and meddling where we shouldn’t. But we fully expected and looked forward to that point in our relationship when it would change from one of complete dependency to what we have now, a reciprocal relationship with our young adult children where they now give back to us on a regular basis with their lives.

Maybe Diane and I are weird. From the beginning we thought of our kids not just as kids, but also as adults in the making. We were very aware that at some point the great amount of personal time, emotion, and money invested in guiding our kids would eventually grow into a more of a two-way street. We hoped that as adults, we could all invest in each other, help each other find significance with our lives, and simply enjoy each other for decades.

Maybe that perspective is why I see business differently than other people. I think businesses should grow up, too. I don’t mean “it would be nice if it happened”. I mean we should all, every one of us, expect our businesses to grow up and start giving back to us and to the world around us.

We should assume that at some point our business would move from survival right through success to significance. Everyone would agree that we should intend for our children to grow up, leave home, and become grown-ups we could enjoy for decades, and yet when was the last time we had a similar conversation about our businesses? It’s normal for children to grow up, so why isn’t it normal for businesses to do the same thing? Frankly, we’re in charge of both of them at birth, and if you have had kids, you’ll know that you’ve got more control over the maturity of your business than the maturity of your kids.

And yet most businesses never grow up. We spend decades changing the diapers in our business and reporting to the vice principal on a regular basis to get it out of detention. Twenty years after we hung out our first sign we seem to be spending as much time, emotion, and money on our business as we did the day it was born. Why would we so eagerly anticipate the maturity of our children and never expect the same for our business? Shouldn’t we expect to be able to enjoy our mature business for decades as well?

I would enjoy your thoughts on this.

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