What a T-Rex Taught Me
Lessons I learned from my children
Sometimes business lessons can come from the least likely of places. In my case, some of my greatest lessons learned occurred on the family front. I’m the father of two amazing boys: Raiyan, a 14-year-old, and Nimr, an 11-year-old. My wife, Onaissa, and I try to impress upon them our values, but I also recognize that if you let them, kids can be great teachers. Here are a few business lessons I’ve learned from my children:
A few months ago, Nimr was playing with a variety of action figures. I asked him what he was playing. He looked at me with a straight face and said, “Star Wars, Pirates, Aliens and Ninjas.” I said, “Well, where does the dinosaur fit into the game?” He quickly replied, “That’s not a dinosaur, daddy, it’s a pirate.” Upon closer examination, the Tyrannosaurus Rex (or T-Rex) clearly had an eye patch drawn on with a black marker. My son showed incredible creativity and the ability to improvise and realize his vision.
There are rules, standards and operating procedures in business that we all follow, but this experience taught me not to be afraid to be imaginative. Now I do things differently than I have in the past, and I do things differently than our competitors. I always keep my eyes open for new opportunities to think outside of the box. And when all else fails, I draw an eye patch with a black marker.
If you don’t think you’re going to get a “yes,” find someone new to ask. Kids quickly learn which parent says “yes” to which questions. For example, my wife doesn’t let the kids watch late- night football games very often, so they come to me. Similarly, I don’t allow them to spend too much time playing video games, so they run to her. It’s a shrewd business tactic, but sometimes it works. When it comes to sales, great leaders find the people capable of saying “yes,” and they never give up, no matter how many people try to block their progress.
We have a rule in our house that if one of the children does some- thing that hurts the other, that child gets to choose the punishment. It can be as severe or mild as they choose. Pulling hair or a punch in the arm could get you five minutes in the corner or a few weeks in your bedroom. Surprisingly, my boys are far more lenient on each other than we are as parents. They know that someday the shoe will be on the other foot. As a result, they’ve created a balance of justice where we seldom have to discipline them for “crimes” committed against each other.
Too often we see companies attack their competition in one form or another. It’s been happening since the dawn of business, but my kids have taught me that you garner more respect out of leniency and mercy than you ever will out of punishment. I’ve discovered that our business audience will view us favorably if we build up our competition and then calmly explain why we think our company is better.
My children have the opportunity to earn some money every month if they follow through on a handful of daily and weekly chores. Recently, they’ve been more helpful around the house as they grow and their abilities improve. Raiyan said to me the other day when I asked him to help out, “I’m going to help you, daddy, but you realize this isn’t part of my allowance.”
It’s great to go the extra mile for customers, but when you do, make sure they understand the value of your time. In my business, we encourage clients to exceed customer expectations whenever possible. At the same time, we know giving something away for free often creates the perception of worthlessness for that service. We make it a point to be subtle, but we also remind our customers that everything we do has value. This prevents us from being taken for granted, and will improve the perception of value in the minds of our customers.
As entrepreneurs, there are business lessons everywhere we look, and oftentimes they’re staring us in the face. In my case, I learned some valuable lessons from my family. By paying attention to the world around me and constantly thinking about what it’s trying to teach me, I’ve been able to adopt a clearer view of my business and make a bigger impact both at work and at home.
Imtisal Abbasi is the partner and COO of IAL Saatchi & Saatchi. "Imtisal acquired a taste for adventure after running away from home at the age of 15. What followed was an interesting summer working for a film production company, as a typist to a psychologist, an assistant at a pathological laboratory, a burger flipper, a waiter and a proofreader."