The business of parenting: Books with lessons from work for home

Having children can be excellent for your career. I am fully aware there are plenty of parents (women particularly) who might raise an eyebrow at this or even laugh out loud and there’s no doubt parenthood can make things complicated. Nonetheless, in my experience and from what I’ve seen of business men and women who are my clients and my friends, parenthood can help step-change your approach to entrepreneurship and work in positive ways. I’m not just talking about people like Sarah Wood who left an academic career to set up the incredibly success viral media company Unruly because she wanted to see more of her kids (read more about her leadership advice here) or Jake Knapp who was one of the geniuses behind GV’s Sprint approach and whose thinking on time was kick-started by parenthood… it is something that happens to many and in many different ways. Parenthood can provide focus, purpose and — above all — inspiration. I’ve learnt so much from my daughters that stimulates thinking differently about people, habits and motivating change and which has impacted on my approach to business and work. This is in addition to them being responsible for sharing some excellent phone games, brilliant social media hacks (and the painful of brutal honesty).

So I’m conscious that family life has generated some positive effects for my thinking at work but I’d not really thought about how it might also be something for the other way around and how work might provide inspiration for my family. Recently I’ve just read three books, all of which have given me thought-provocation for my business life and all of which also provided me with ideas to explore at home as well.

All three books come highly recommended.

The first is a classic from the father of positive psychology — Martin Seligman. It’s called Flourish and provides science-backed approaches which explore how to promote ‘flourishing’ in people (not just happiness but engagement and meaning). There are great ideas for individuals, for organisations — and definitely for those wanting to raise children and teenagers in a way which will promote resilience, empathy and well-being. This includes reference to the ‘Losada ratio’ — the ratio of negative to positive reinforcement which is an extremely important theory to be aware of and was introduced to me by a man who melds business insight with understanding how to raise kids — Drew Povey, headteacher, author, leadership speaker, star of educating Manchester.

Check out the perfect ratio here — I’m sceptical about such precision but I think the basic point is important. We all respond to where attention is placed and if it is a positive reinforcement that’s highly effective. More specific praise more often can give you guidance at home, at work and a focus on ‘flourishing’ (a combination of well-being, happiness, meaning, engagement rather than just simple happiness) is a great steer for work teams and family life.

I love my work and love thinking about it. I love my family and am ambitious for their flourishing too. The ideal is that each can help the other.

If you really want to bring your family together and share fun lessons in teamwork and tenacity, then planning an adventure together seems a great idea. Caspar’s Craven’s brilliant story of how he and his wife sailed around the world with his three small children is a fantastic read. I’m a determinedly lazy landlubber married to an obsessive sailor and I definitely couldn’t do what Caspar and Nicola do in this story but I loved reading about it, and seeing how this successful entrepreneur and speaker applied some work lessons to helping his family survive and thrive when all at sea. A great story which is full of practical, fun ideas for family flourishing.

Last but not least is a book from one of my favourite authors. If you haven’t read Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking then you’re missing something very important. It’s essential for anyone interested in smart decision-making at work and in the world. I always reference it as one of my top books ever, so I was hugely intrigued to see him launch a book for kids called ‘You Are Awesome’. I bought a copy for my ten year old who has been dealing with a confidence roller-coaster and it’s been perfect to read together. It builds on behavioural science to provide an engaging look at the growth mindset and techniques for resilience which help kids understand the potential ahead of them and the choices they’re able to meet. I’ve bought a copy for one of my goddaughters too and planning ones for nieces and nephews… they’re awesome and it is too.

The idea of a dramatic segregation of work and life (the sense of a ‘balance’) doesn’t appeal to me. I love my work and love thinking about it. I love my family and am ambitious for their flourishing too. The ideal is that each can help the other. Sharing stories and ideas across them feels healthy and a contemporary and interesting approach to life.

All these smart authors have provided me with plenty of food for thought in my business life and in my personal life. Being a parent is not separate from being at work. We are the same sentient people navigating similar challenges with all the different people in our lives, progress of different kinds is sought and relationships are there to be built (and enjoyed). Often the best ideas in business come from thinking different — sparks of inspiration from different categories or other organisations, or from nature, or from personal experience — and there’s no reason why business thinking can’t apply to the business of parenting. Within reason, (I’m never going to be that parent who plans specific KPIs and planning cycles for my lot), but I am open to reading more to help me think smarter about the precious time we have together.

Do you agree? Have you read business authors who’ve helped you think differently about your home life or your relationship with your family? I’d love to hear.