Ever since I read the now infamous Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article about Chinese (aka “Tiger”) mothering, something’s been nagging at me.
Initially, my reaction to the article, which is excerpted from Yale Law professor Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” was similar to that of many “Western” parents whose less than militaristic parenting was suddenly being called into question.
I was horrified by the brutal language she uses with her children and found her extreme parenting tactics — calling her daughters “garbage,” eschewing play dates and sports — shocking. My judgment quickly turned to insecurity as I wondered whether I haven’t been too lax with my own kids.
Two weeks and more than 7,000 WSJ comments later, I’m left thinking that there’s some middle ground to be staked out regarding Chua’s approach to parenting. Her theories, it seems to me, have merit. It might just be that her tiger is roaring up the wrong tree.
So, after wrestling the Wii remote out of my kids’ hands, signing them up for piano lessons and resolving to engage in far fewer vegetable negotiations at the dinner table, I decided to examine Chua’s parenting approach through an entrepreneurial lens.
Practice makes perfect
In what many considered to be Chua’s most egregious offense, she forced her then- 7-year-old daughter to practice a piece on the piano until she perfected it. Through temper tantrums and without bathroom breaks, the child is practically tied to the piano bench until she has mastered the complicated piece.
Chua’s contention was that nothing is fun until you are good at it. By forcing her daughter to realize her potential, rather than coddling her and allowing her to quit before she succeeded, she was teaching her daughter that perseverance pays off.
As an entrepreneur, you might do well to follow Chua’s lead. How many entrepreneurs succeed on their first try? Not many. In fact, most successful small- business owners have made lots of mistakes. Many have failed businesses in their past and all have made bad decisions, taken wrong turns and wasted precious funding on fruitless endeavors.
The difference between those who’ve gone on to succeed and those who’ve gone back to their day jobs is that some just didn’t give up.
They practiced, refined their approach, tried again and asked for advice. They followed the lead of their inner Tiger mother and didn’t quit until they’d achieved their goal.
In her book, Chua contends that telling kids they’re doing a great job when, in fact, they are not, is cheating them out of the chance to truly earn praise.
In one instance, she isn’t impressed with the quality of the homemade birthday card she receives from her daughter and returns it, saying she deserves better.
Brutal? Perhaps. But, that kind of honesty can go a long way when your business is on the line.
How much time, money and heartache could have been saved if you’d just been honest with yourself about one of your business ideas? If you’d done your due diligence, gotten outside opinions and really listened to your critics?
Too often, entrepreneurs get so excited about their big idea that they fear that a little negative input could send their whole dream to an early grave. However, if you truly believe in your idea, you should be willing to see if it can withstand the tests of time and truthfulness.
Before you proceed with your business plan or, even a new approach to your existing business, line up a few of your “tell it like it is” friends, employees and co-workers, buy them a bottle of wine and lay it on the line. Let them mull it over, pick it apart and shoot you down.
If you and your idea can withstand the attack, you’ll be better off for the experience and you’ll be a lot more likely to succeed once you incorporate their input into your plan.
Perhaps my favorite post in response to the article on the WSJ’s comment page was this one: “Wow, now I know why there are so few famous Chinese actors.”
This was in reference to the fact that, according to Chua, Tiger parents do not allow their children to participate in school plays or any activity that is not academic. The one exception, according to Chua, is that Tiger parents insist their kids play the violin or the piano. No other instruments allowed.
While this parenting approach may seem tempting to the minivan-driving mom who’s racked up thousands of miles going back and forth between soccer games, tap lessons and gymnastics, I, personally, think it’s a little narrow-minded.
For entrepreneurs, however, this kind of focus is critical. Picking one thing and focusing on it is crucial to finding a niche and earning a reputation as being great at your chosen occupation.
There’s nothing worse for your reputation that being a jack-of-too-many-trades. No one wants a stylist who can also fix their toilet or a therapist who sells protein drinks on the side. It reeks of unprofessionalism.
The most successful business owners are the ones who earn a reputation for being good, if not great, at one thing. Even if it’s one, really, really, specific thing.
It’s no longer acceptable to define yourself as a marketing expert. You either specialize in social media, SEO, branding or e-commerce. By the same token, the most successful web designers now market themselves as specializing in weddings or pet services or sports.
Just as the evolution of social media and e-commerce have served to fracture the book and music markets, allowing for boutique publishers and indie bands to cater to a very small but fiercely loyal group of customers, consumers, in general, are beginning to demand products and services that serve their needs or interests to a “T.”
And, in this case, that “T” stands for Tiger.
Jeanette Mulvey is the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.