Leadership lessons my twin toddlers taught me

Once in a while (usually when Erwin’s 30,000 feet high), he’ll pen down his thoughts on parenting. Here he draws the parallels of his two roles (at home and at work).

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Most parents might agree - raising kids is one of the most rewarding yet challenging things we do in life, and every situation, day and stage looks different. Recently I found myself drawing parallels to the business world. Here are my thoughts on connecting my experiences bringing up our twin toddler girls with real life scenarios at work.

1. Motivation gets commitment

Toddlers minds are complex and unpredictable. What worked yesterday may not matter at all today. While they love to talk and share stories, reasoning has not fully kicked in, putting your 'managing via influence' skills to the test. Patience, humility and adapting to new situations are essential to achieve things together. A top-down instruction without buy-in of your toddler? Good luck to you :). In a business context, you may not get a response as open/candid as a 3 year old will give you but you should always take time to explain the rationale of your ask vs. giving limited guidance. Adapt your communication style, have others understand why you want things a certain way and how their contribution aids a larger objective or cause.

2. Spend time to understand

Be it with your children, team members or customers, it holds true that by spending time together, listening to needs/concerns, you will develop a much better understanding of who they are, what makes and drives them, and how can you help them. It's often not just about overt communication but also understanding other signals or body language. Often times, when we spend time with kids it's fairly unstructured - on the contrary for business, where we have very rigid agendas, talking points and expected outcomes. Leaving a little flexibility & time for a personal connect in the business world can go a long way in genuinely understanding what's going on, and what really drives people professionally and personally.

3. Little things matter

One thing that surprised me over the past year is how sharp our daughters' memories are and how much they remember little things. I got reminded what books I promised to read to them at night time, long after I initially mentioned it. The little ones look up to you, and it means the world to them if you meet these promises (or even exceed by throwing in another bedtime story). I told myself to never ever disappoint them on that. Toddlers also don't judge value too much. Some of their most prized possessions are an old, worn pink t-shirt and small books that are not even meant for children (strangely enough - a manual for my wife's digital camera, a book with just text - children's name suggestions). When looking at corporate environments, yes - money/financial incentives are important - but we tend to forget the power of a 'Thank You' or 'Job Well Done' to recognize great accomplishments. Everyone will always be pressed for time during big projects but it's important to ensure people feel appreciated and their contribution is recognized & no commitments being broken.

4. Don't corrupt

Many parents resort to screens as digital pacifiers, to enable a bit of calm throughout hectic days, outings or visits to restaurant. While toddlers may be calm over the course of a meal they don't know limits well and would request more and more screen time. Its hard to resist the easy way out. But by not letting these distractions creep in too much, kids learn how to entertain themselves in other ways - in many cases involving you as parent as well. Likewise, in the business world, it's imperative to stay true to good ethics and integrity when dealing with others. The easy way out/patching things up for the moment may solve things in the short term and get you a quick win but not address fundamentals or the root cause of a challenge. Offering the wrong incentives may also set false precedents and highly likely backfires on you at later stage.

The fact that toddlers are a little bit unpredictable, yet very genuine and completely uninhibited, not guarded with their feelings and moods makes them super authentic but also more challenging than most people we interact with in a business context. But we can also learn a whole lot from them for these very reasons, due to their openness and candid, immediate feedback on everything we do around them. I am in awe seeing our kids grow and develop, as well as teaching us parents new ways of looking at things almost everyday.

(P.S. Here’s one more from over a year ago on raising twins).

San Francisco, you're such a charm.

Yes the streets aren’t spanking clean. There’s a lot more homeless people on the streets than I remember from my last visit a decade ago. The city has also gotten a lot more expensive. There's random people straddling down the streets in their birthday suits without a care in the world.  You'll find broken glasses everywhere on the streets. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend walking through some of the neighbourhoods alone, at night or otherwise. 

But still, there’s so much charm I found and want to remember from this visit: 

  • I loved admiring the facades of the many houses built on the countless hills and slopes. They’re all quite whimsical and colourful and I am amazed by the amount of individuality that goes into the design of these. Secret gardens, pride flags, purple and pink lightings, the whole works.

  • The view of the city - I don’t mean skyscrapers or anything downtown. But I love the view of houses sprawled all over the hillside, or just to be able to see long stretches of roads going up and down across town. Catching a glimpse of the sunset at the Dolores park on the way to dinner. And even when the fog rolls around, that feels just like the quintessential San Francisco experience.

  • Discovering neighbourhoods - I really enjoyed Hayes Valley. It was good vibes only. Soaking in the sunset at the open square was especially nice - with the container structures housing cafes, shops, outdoor seating, people walking dogs in the parks, interesting shops and restaurants.

  • The access to the wine country in just an hour. I really wish we have access to something like that in Singapore to take the hustle and bustle out of busy city life.

  • Every other person seems to be working in tech…that by itself is nothing interesting, but when you ended up randomly bumping into the founder of Vimeo and having a chat with him on education technology for kids, then it does feel quite surreal.

  • Conversations with people and organisations who are doing amazing things grounds-up in the field of education.

  • The amazingly diverse amount of good food and drinks and innovative menus. I also love how all the wait staff and bartenders are extremely knowledgeable and not (seemingly) working off a script. All I can say is, we ate well.

I was there with the Saturday Kids crew, and San Francisco was our 2nd stop after attending the ISTE conference in Chicago, the world’s largest EdTech conference. What’s a small digital literacy school from Singapore doing in the US spending time doing all these you ask? We met up with partners, schools, checked out innovative learning spaces, to learn and to connect with them. It’s been nothing short of inspiring. Our mainstream education system isn’t perfect (and so goes for many others around the world) - and we all have our grudges about having our kids being put through the system. But fundamentally that’s also why Saturday Kids exists and what so many of us in the team feel strongly about - to see how we can provide an alternative model to learning, and to design learning experiences for kids that helps cultivate a love for learning, creativity and curiosity. We’ve learnt a lot during this trip and hope we can translate that into something tangible in time to come. I'll be sharing more about the trip over at the Saturday Kids blog over the next few weeks. 

If you’re curious to learn more about the work we do at Saturday Kids, drop me a PM. Meanwhile, enjoy the photos below, a few impressions from the trip. No time to edit, all straight off the iPhone :)

Why I decided to join Saturday Kids full-time

6 months ago, I took on a marketing project with Saturday Kids. What was initially a 3-month project, turned out to be 6 months and now a full-time gig (having gone freelance since the #baumbinis came along). So who are the Saturday Kids and why am I enthralled by their mission? 

Saturday Kids’ mission is to use digital literacy classes to transform kids into self-motivated learners who are curious, inventive and resourceful. I like to think of us as a place where kids experience and play with technology meaningfully - where we design and facilitate learning experiences (using tech) to help kids express themselves and their creativity, rooted in the real world context, and solving real world problems. It is easy to just classify us as a “coding school for kids” - there are many other places out there offering coding classes, but beyond teaching kids how to code, we’re really more interested in growing and developing values such as curiosity, resilience, and empathy that are beneficial to kids in the long run, and across multiple facets of their lives. 

I read this somewhere when I first joined - that we learn science and math in school, not to become scientists and mathematicians, and similarly, when kids learn to code, it’s not necessarily to be programmers, but to better understand the world that they now grow up in, which operates and is dominated by tech. Having two budding toddlers also make me personally vested in Saturday Kids' mission. I love having them spend lots of time outdoors, but at the same time, believe that technology, when leveraged appropriately, is a friend, not a foe. They are too young now anyways for any of our courses but I can't wait for them to attend our Curious Cubs few years down the road.

In a recent gathering organised by the Asia Foundation, I heard a couple of stories from people in the region, who spoke their work on social issues in their respective countries. In many instances, solutions were powered by technology to drive change, and it reminded me of one of our favourite taglines “What If Kids Can Invent The Future”, and why we exist.

There’s a lot of work to be done and things to fix. We are a small (but growing team) with big dreams. I love how the team is made up of a diverse group of changemakers - people whom in their past lives had been investment bankers, software engineers, teachers, marketers, graduates, with a simple belief that there’s a better way for our kids to learn, and to learn through purposeful play. Plus I still get to photograph as a side hustle :)

We are still on the lookout for good people to join our team (details here) - curriculum developers, marketing, graphic designers, customer service. So please get in touch if you know of anyone who might be suitable or if there's interesting opportunities to collaborate. Our camps are pretty awesome (just saying), so if you're on the lookout for holiday camps this summer for your kids, drop me a note.