Entrepreneur’s Syndrome can strike at any age but symptoms may be detected early in the young. While this condition can be cured by stifling creativity, the best treatment is to deal with the symptoms. While I am not a doctor, I have done extensive research on this subject and feel qualified to comment on this syndrome which has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the world. Plus, I played a nurse once in a skit at a school fund raiser.
Our son, Joshua, has always been curious about how things worked and, as he’s grown older, had his own ideas about how things could be improved. It was obvious that he saw the world around him differently than most people. While many of us fly through our day taking many of the products and services we use for granted, Joshua always seemed to have an idea for a better design or a new product. Young entrepreneurs are like that.
When he was very young, he would take apart the toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals to see how they worked. When he drew pictures for school projects, he portrayed unusual angles and multiple dimensions. Once, when we returned from a vacation, he asked if he could have the disposable Kodak camera. After downloading the pictures, it didn’t take him long to discover the power supply by completing an electric circuit with his finger. That got his attention!
He spent much of his free time, from about age eleven, researching electronics, learning how to code, building printed circuit boards, and watching YouTube and Instructibles to learn how to do things. In his early teens he taught himself how to “jail break” iPhones (a hack that overrides the built-in limitations of the phone and allows for greater customization) and sold his services to his classmates. When we discovered he was doing this, which was followed by a discussion of why it was a bad idea, I asked him how much he charged and how he knew how to price it. He replied that his pricing varied a little bit because he charged an amount that made it worth it for him, but one his classmates could afford without having to ask their parents for the money. “Asking parents for money is usually a deal killer” he said . I knew then that we had an entrepreneur on our hands. Either an entrepreneur or a con man.
The signs that you or your loved one may be afflicted with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome:
1. Curiosity about how things work – Taking apart everything from toys to VCRs is normal. THE TREATMENT: Get inexpensive electronics, mechanized, digital equipment, toys and appliances from garage sales and Goodwill so they don’t take apart the good stuff.
2. Seeing the world differently – Notices things others don’t. Sees problems and solutions. Caution: This can also lead to strong opinions, fierce independence and significant confidence. This all sounds good until, as a parent, you have to manage and direct it. I have always told my wife that our kids being skilled in communication when they were young was cute until they became teenagers and used it as a weapon. There are days when I think we should have never encouraged them to speak. THE TREATMENT: Encourage and talk to them about their observations and thought processes. While, as parents, we can’t allow these young, potential entrepreneurs to be disrespectful, they likely feel a bit ackward that they think differently than others and they need an outlet to help them figure things out.
3. Problem solving – There a pattern of problem solving that evolves into dealing with more and more complex projects that accompanies maturity. THE TREATMENT: Help them think through the problem but do not take the lead or help them avoid failure. Be patient. If they fail, they may get frustrated, disappointed, and appear to lose confidence. Be supportive. They will figure out what to do next. Failure is part of the learning process.
4. Free time spent researching and learning – Those afflicted will spend some of their free time exploring the world around them to understand new technologies, and to teach themselves how to do things. THE TREATMENT: Be guarded about where, and from who, they get their information. Some great sources are not necessarily age appropriate. We allowed Joshua to use the internet extensively but he couldn’t have a laptop in his room until he was an older teen and he was required to be in open areas of our house where we could observe what he was doing any time we wanted.
5. A sense of economics, the value of things, and product development – In my experience, those afflicted with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome have an innate sense of value. While they may not have the in-depth knowledge of how to price a product or service, they generally have a sense of what a good idea looks like as well as profit and loss. THE TREATMENT: Whether it’s a lemonade stand, hacking iPhones, building websites, or building an early version of a hardware product, the afflicted must have opportunities to put their sense of economics into practice. Insure that what they want to do is not illegal or immoral and turn them lose.
6. Communicating their ideas – Those affliced with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome generally have a personality that allows them to pitch their ideas and to get others interested in buying their product or service, or helping with developing the solution. Great ideas aren’t worth much if you can’t communicate their value. THE TREATMENT: While our personality is a gift, good communication is a skill. The afflicted need guidance and practice in order to properly tell their story, communicate their ideas, and get people to care.
THE TAKE AWAY:
Parents – As challenging as this affliction may appear to be, the one thing we don’t want to do as parents is to stifle the creativity and innovative thinking of our kids. The SYSTEM will do enough of that. Our job is to provide opportunities for them to discover and explore their gifts and passion, to build knowledge and skill, and let them fail along the path to discovery. This is the only TREATMENT that works.
Young Entrepreneurs – If you have some of these symptoms, you may be feeling different than many of your peers. Never stop exploring and creating. Seek out groups of like-minded people. The IDEA group – Innovators, Developers, Entrepreneurs and Artists. TREATMENT – Solve a problem and build something. It’s the only treatment that works. Start today and you can lead a long and happy life doing what you love.