In this day and age, we are faced with an epidemic of parental anxiety as more and more parents struggle on building a strong foundation for their children to be successful in life. Esther Wojcicki, author of How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, is here to encourage parents and tell them to relax. Her book offers essential lessons for raising, educating, and managing people to their highest potential. Known to her friends as “Woj,” she is an educator, and author, and a journalist. Woj shares the significance of empowering children starting from home and why we need trust and show them they can do and figure things out on their own no matter what age they are. Moreover, she shares her secret to raising successful people – TRICK – which stands for trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness.
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How To Raise Successful People with Esther Wojcicki
On this episode, my guest is Esther Wojcicki who has written a book called How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results. She is famous for three things, teaching a high school class that changed the lives of thousands of students, raising three daughters who have each become famously successful. One is the CEO of YouTube, one is the Founder and CEO of the 23andMe and a top medical researcher. The third thing is inspiring Silicon Valley legends like Steve Jobs. We’re going to ask her what these three things have in common and what she is talking about in her book that relates not just to parenting but to the business world in helping people, whether you’re an entrepreneur or working for a big company become more passionate using her tips. Esther, welcome to the show.
Thank you, John. I’m very excited to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me.
I always like to give people a little context. You and I met on a plane ride from Helsinki back to Silicon Valley where we were attending an event called Slush, which was all about having entrepreneurs come together from around the world. Part of the value of attending things like that is getting to meet people like you. Then we struck up a friendship and have kept in touch ever since. You have this wonderful book, How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results. Would you mind taking us back to your own story of origin, before you even had children? Did you always know you wanted to be a teacher?
No, I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher at all. In fact, my parents didn’t expect me to work at all. Their goal for me was to be a mother. It is a very different goal. My parents were Russian immigrants and they came to America to try to live a better life. Unfortunately, they ended up here at the end of the depression and the beginning of World War II. They didn’t really get a better life. It probably was better than where they were in a Russia because if they would have been in Russia, they probably wouldn’t have been alive. They probably should have thought about that one or at least, I think about that. That was my humble origins. I grew up in a family where money was something we did not have.
Now you have evolved from that to being very involved with education. Tell us how you got from that humble background into becoming a teacher.
My goal after college was to see what I could do as a journalist. I started writing for a newspaper when I was thirteen, fourteen years old as a person writing that was not important and I continued all the way through high school. Then when I was in college, I also earned side money by being a local journalist on what was called the Berkeley Daily Gazette. From there, I went into teaching because teaching was an easier profession for women to enter in the 1960s and 1970s. It was hard to be a journalist for a woman in the 1960s and ‘70s because women were blocked. For example, I couldn’t get into the San Francisco Press Club because I was a woman. I thought, “I might as well be a teacher. That seemed to be a path that was open.” That’s how I ended up being a teacher, but it turns out that I was a very effective teacher. I didn’t realize how effective I was until I went into the classroom. The kids liked me and I like being with them. As a matter of fact, I love being with them. That’s why I’m still there in the classroom after many years.
You were a teacher first and then became a mother, is that correct?
Yes, but I was only a teacher for a short time, a year or two, then I became a mother and then I went back into teaching.
Were you able to take the lessons you have learned and implemented as a teacher into raising your three daughters?
Let’s put it this way. When I was a teacher, I was following the instructions I got in the schools of education. When I was home as a parent, I decided I was going to use an experimental system on my children because I wanted them to be as empowered and as independent as they could possibly be. That was not the goal of the school system. The goal of the school system was, “Can you make them learn as much of the material that we designed?” I didn’t have that goal as a parent. My goal as a parent was to make sure that they were as independent and as self-confident as they could be early on. I started very early, when they were born, to be honest. They were my little guinea pigs.Be vulnerable to get respect. Click To Tweet
I know that your method is the opposite of helicopter parenting. You talked to infants as if they’re adults. There must be the same thoughts that people who are managing people could take away from the opposite of helicopter parenting. A lot of managers like to micromanage their team. For example, if someone’s a sales manager and they say, “Salespeople, here’s the exact script you must say a word for word,” instead of letting people put it in their own words. Would you say that’s a transitional skill that you’re talking about there?
That is an important skill that I am talking about there because all these managers, all these people in business want their employees to work as effectively as possible, be passionate about their job and produce great results. It turns out that the less respect and the less trust you have for your employees, the less likely it is that they’re going to be passionate about their job. They’re going to be doing their job because they want that paycheck. You don’t want them to want the paycheck. You want them to want to make a difference.
Let’s dive into some of the content in your wonderful book. The title is How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results. My first question is what’s a radical result for you versus just a result?
A radical result is an opposite of what you think you might get with the regular normal result. A radical result in changing parenting would be instead of having children where you have to take care of them all the time, tell them what to do all the time and control them all the time. The radical result would be you have self-empowered, ethical children that want to do some of the things that the family wants to accomplish without you as a parent, always being the one that is telling them what to do. How do you get to that point in your family? That’s what I’m addressing in the book, How to Raise Successful People.
How do we do that in our companies, which is also another version of the family? Especially what resonates with me, when you said not just self-empowered but ethical people. How can you teach your children or your employees to be ethical when no one’s watching?
One of the things you want to do is to model this yourself. It’s funny how people don’t realize that the model at the top carries incredible weight and people watch you. Sometimes it’s subconscious, they don’t even realize it. If the model at the top is unethical, if the model at the top isn’t kind or doesn’t collaborate well, then it’s hard for the people in the company to model on that behavior. They won’t collaborate well. They won’t be ethical or they won’t be kind. They do what they see and that’s true in the family too. What happens in your family is if you are always telling your kids, for example, “Don’t be on the phone at dinner or don’t be on the phone at meals and all that stuff,” and you confiscate their phone. Then you take out your own phone and there you are saying, “This is an important call. I can’t pass this one up. I have to do it.” What are you saying to your kids?
It’s that old parenting model that doesn’t work at all, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It doesn’t work in the family and it doesn’t work at the office either. You have this wonderful acronym called TRICK. I remember hearing about it when we first met before the book was out. It stands for Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness. I want to double click on each one of those. Starting with Trust and you’ve already alluded to it a little bit, that without Trust and Respect, the first two in the acronym TRICK, there’s less passion for work. Let’s talk about Trust because this is the foundation for everything, any kind of relationship. Brands are always talking about, “How do we get people to trust us if they haven’t heard of us before?” What is your philosophy around building trust?
Trust starts early. It starts in the home and parents tend not to trust their kids. They think they know the best. The kid knows nothing. As a result, the kid doesn’t feel trusted and they are afraid to take any step where the parent isn’t there. Lack of trust means a lack of trust in yourself. When the child doesn’t feel like they’re capable, then they aren’t because it’s all mindset. It’s all what you think about, what you can do. It’s the same way in a company and it’s in the same way in a school. The way you think about yourself is the most important thing of all. There’s a woman at Stanford that talks about the mindset all the time and how you can change your mindset. It’s really important for people to realize that your mindset is very controlling.
Imagine if you were on a ski, I don’t know how many people ski, but if you get to the top of the hill and you say to yourself, “It looks terrible, I’m going to fall the whole way down.” That’s unfortunately what you usually do. That’s your reality. You need to think about the mindset in all areas of your life, in your home, your school and your business. Your mindset especially is so important in business because all these companies are trying to make a difference in one way or another. They have a product, they have a service. They have something that’s important. What you want to do is you want to model the trust. When you model it, what happens is everybody else follows and sees that you’re a trustworthy company. Everybody wants to be a trustworthy company.
You and I are singing from the same songbook, that’s for sure. We employers tell our employees, “We trust you not to cheat on your expense report, not to say you’re going to see X number of people a week,” or whatever it is you’re empowering them to do without having to. Some people are saying, “We don’t trust you so we’re putting a tracking device on your iPad and your phone to make sure you’re where you say you are.” All of that lack of trust causes so much resentment. This mindset that you were talking about with the skiing example, when I’m giving keynote talks to sales organizations, this need to be perfect and being a perfectionist and how that cramps your creativity. I tell people if you’re climbing Mount Everest and you’re halfway there, your choice is, you either look down and say, “Look how much progress I’ve made,” or you look up and say, “Look how much further I have to go.” That’s the same thing that happens in managing people and certainly parenting children is, “How do you help children let go of this need to be perfect?”
You don’t get upset when they make a mistake. When you model it yourself, if you make a mistake and you get upset and your kid gets upset, you have to look at yourself. What did you do when something happened that wasn’t right? Every day we make mistakes. That is the way we learn. You learn by making mistakes. Your reaction to life is the only thing you can control. There is nothing else. You cannot control what happens, but you can control your reaction to what happens.
Imagine having a boss or a parent say to you, “You’re going to learn how to ride a bike. You’re probably going to fall down a lot. That’s how we learn by making mistakes. Don’t worry about it.” It takes all the pressure to be perfect the first time you try something new off the table. The concept of respect and I’m guessing it’s going to be a lot like trust you. You have to respect yourself before you can respect your children and you have to respect yourself before you can respect your co-workers. What is it that people can do in their family or in their workplace to increase the respect that they get?
They have to behave like a person that people want to respect. They have to be willing to be vulnerable too. It’s important for you not to be perfect all the time because no one’s perfect. We’re all hiding this from each other. If you can show that you make mistakes, you get hurt and you’re sad about this but you’re still continuing, you’re still working. You are controlling the way that it is you’re responding to life. You’re going to make it no matter what. You’re going to be as positive as possible. That is the key.
We move on from trust and respect to independence. You wanted to raise three independent daughters. Clearly, you’ve done that. What were some of the things that you did to make them feel confident and independent?
They were not being served in the house like a lot of children are. They actually had to participate. They had to help make dinner. They had to help set the table. When they were small, when they were eighteen months to two years old, they had to help clean up every day. I made it simple, but the concept was there. I bought a little plastic swimming pool. They’re available everywhere. The way that we cleaned up is every day they had to pick up their toys and put them in the plastic swimming pool and it worked really well. The next morning when they came out, all their toys were in one place in a plastic swimming pool. That’s an example of one thing that they were doing. They were also busy. If they could, they would mix things for dinner. I didn’t let them use a knife until they were maybe six or seven years old, but they were able to set the table and put things back. When they were little, they were doing things like helping me fold diapers. I made it into something that was fun. They all wanted to do it. What I was trying to do is show them that they can do it no matter how old they are or how young they are. Another thing I did is I taught them how to swim really young. They were twelve months old when they learned to swim. I know that sounds unbelievable, but small babies can learn to swim.
I used to be a lifeguard and I used to teach parents how to get their infants in the pool and blowing bubbles. The key is to make it fun. That leads right into collaboration, which I’m thinking is another key aspect of getting people to come up with good ideas and to work together well is if you can make it fun. Are there other tips you have around how to get collaboration in the workplace as in the home?
Collaborations were the hardest things to do because people usually want to do things by themselves and they take credit for having done it by themselves. What you want to do is make it cool and make it exciting for people to do things in teams. Team A and Team B could be two people together, but working together, the ideas bounce off each other. They do a better job when they’re working together in teams, even if it’s an individual thing. Even if you’re coding, you can talk to the person next to you who’s also doing something and you can be more effective. All the education research shows that people are much more effective when they interact than if they stay on a computer all day and try to learn. That’s not learning. That’s nothing. That’s entertaining.
While you were saying that comment, I can hear my friends’ children and remember my younger sister is saying to my parents, “I can do it myself,” and not wanting any help. This urge to get out of that childlike mindset of, “I want to do everything by myself and I want to take all the credit for it,” and get them into this collaborative concept is valuable. There are books about this, teams that collaborate together and share the credit are much more effective at coming up with innovative solutions that you can’t possibly come up with when you’re in your own head.
Google did this project called the Aristotle Project, where they were looking at what makes the most effective employees. It’s online you can go and find it. What it basically shows is the power of the group and the power of being supportive in a group. When little kids want to do it themselves, that’s usually like, “I want to put my clothes on myself,” which is not a problem. That’s a good idea. They usually put it on backward to start. Don’t let that bother you. As time goes on, they should be able to do things together. You can’t play a ball game by yourself. You could if you throw it up in the air and down and up in the air. All these team sports, they teach so much more than just how to catch a ball. You know how to lose and how to win, how to be part of a group or part of the team. It’s important for parents to encourage team sports. In a company, it’s a good idea to take that same coaching model. That model where there’s somebody there coaching the team to be as effective as it can be and realize sometimes you lose because teams don’t win all the time. That’s important for them to think about. That’s our collaboration and we need to learn it early and then practice it all through life.
The last letter of TRICK is Kindness. In a time when students are being bullied and there are a lot of issues around depression, especially for teenagers. What, if any tips do you have about teaching your children to be kind and how to respond when people are not being kind to them?Without trust and respect, there is no passion. Click To Tweet
This is based on modeling. You personally have to show that you’re kind and kindness starts at home, kindness and compassion. You can read books to them about kind people. You could watch videos about it, you can talk about it and you can do it. That can be things like volunteering at a local homeless shelter or providing food for people that don’t have food. There are a lot of different things that you can do to be kind. Even saying hello to people. It’s shocking sometimes people walk by the custodians in the school on a daily basis and they don’t even say hello to them. These are human beings too. Be kind to everybody. How about saying hello? How about respecting other people? Their job might not be as prestigious as yours or vice versa, but we can all be kind to each other. It’s very important in the classroom for the teacher to model kindness because the minute that teacher does something mean or nasty to one student in the class, all other 30 students are like, “I don’t want that to happen to me.” The reputation of the class is, “This is a mean class.” You cannot do that.
The old way of selling when you were being trained how to sell was, “I’ll always be closing ABC.” I shifted that when I work with salespeople to ABK, “Always be kind” to the way you talk to yourself and then the way you interact with everyone, as you were saying. Some of these salespeople, I’m constantly trying to help them with their empathy skills, which I think is a next-door neighbor to kindness. From the moment you leave your home to you are in that room presenting, and if you’re rude to the receptionist, that person may not be the decision maker but they’re part of the team that is and vice versa. If you show empathy and are kind to everyone that you interact with, the energy completely shifts.
It’s important to be kind to everyone. There is not a religion in the world that does not teach kindness. Every single one does it and we should all respect that. There must be something in the importance of kindness if every single religion in the world teaches it.
One of your strategies and methods is allowing teenagers to pick projects that relate to the real world and their own passions as opposed to making everybody follow the same curriculum. How does that work in the business world do you think?
In the business world, what you want to do is something similar to the Google 20% time. I’m proposing that for the schools as well. You give employees or students an opportunity to work on a passion project of their choice that relates to your company or relates to your subject matter 20% of the time. Even if they don’t take you up on that, even if they don’t have a passion project, just the thought of having the freedom to have that project if you want it, that is liberating.
That concept of “What if?” is the way I talk about it all the time. Paint a picture for someone and help them discover their passions and you’re going to help companies retain their employees. There’s such a problem right now with Millennials being seen as not being loyal to companies. If they’re working for a place that has trust, respect, independence, collaboration, kindness and the ability to help them tap into their passions, you’re not going to have that turnover problem that’s existing. Don’t you agree?
That’s right. The reason the Millennials are leaving these companies is because they need a passion and they want to do things that make a difference in the world and make a difference in their lives. They don’t want to do a routine job. If you can give them that opportunity, even 20% of the time, they won’t go anywhere. They’ll stay there.
One of the things that you talked about is inspiring people like Steve Jobs. Do you have a Steve Jobs story that you can share?
Steve Jobs was a super kind person to me. I liked him. He helped me a lot at the beginning because he came into my class. That was a time when he was not at Apple and he wasn’t anywhere. He was in between all his projects and companies. He would come into class because his daughter was in a class and hang out. He would say things like, “That doesn’t work very well. Let’s see what I can do to help.” The next day help arrived in the form of a new computer, for example. He was a very kind person. He loved teachers. I know he was very demanding in other areas of his life, but I can say that in the education arena, he was great. He was totally focused on what he wanted to do and he could not be diverted. I remember him talking about the phone was going to be in your pocket. I remember being, “This is really far out, a phone in your pocket.”
It’s like talking about everyone going to the moon or something.
It’s another story. He was very interesting to talk to about it because he had a laser vision about what it was that he wanted to do. He was extremely artistic. Those are some of the stories. He was a great person. All the parents had to supply food for the program that his daughter was in. He brought all organic food back before anybody was doing it. He and his wife were like, “This is what they’re going to have.” It was great food.
Is there a characteristic that you see that all three of your daughters are using now as successful business people? Is it the laser focus that Steve Jobs at or is it something else you see?
One is the laser focus, but it’s the other one that is really important. It’s their reaction to life, their reaction to setbacks. They don’t let it get to them. That is what I said earlier. The only thing you can control in life is your reaction to life.
Instead of letting something devastate you, you bounce back and say, “What else can we do to fix this?
You have to have a positive attitude. You can be devastated by some things that happened because some things are pretty upsetting. You can give yourself, “I’m going to worry about it, I’m going to get upset for a day but then after that, I’m going to move forward,” because the alternatives are nasty. The alternative is moving backward or losing your ability to think clearly because you’re so upset or getting your employees all upset.All you can control is your reaction to life. Click To Tweet
As you said in modeling, if the boss gets upset whenever a big account goes away, then everyone else is devastated.
One of the things I realized as a teacher because sometimes we would have repeated fire drills. It wasn’t a drill, it was people pulling the fire alarm and that is completely upsetting to students. They’re like, “Not another fire alarm.” The teacher’s reaction to that false fire alarm, even if it happens two or three times a day, is the key to keeping those students focused. If the teacher gets upset, I can promise you all the students get upset.
The thing that strikes me about How to Raise Successful People, your book, is it’s not just being a parent or it’s not being a manager at a company. You are helping us parent ourselves by using the TRICK acronym.
The number one thing we have to do is to parent ourselves and to take care of ourselves. We have to treat ourselves with kindness. TRICK applies to us too. You have to trust yourself and respect yourself. We aren’t perfect and people get mad at themselves. Then they don’t know how to forgive themselves. You have to forgive yourself no matter what you’ve done because you cannot move forward unless you do that. It’s important.
Esther, that is such a great note to leave on. Forgive yourself, parent yourself and be kind to yourself. Get the book, How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results. I can’t thank you enough for being on the show.
Thank you so much and best of luck to everybody.
- Esther Wojcicki
- How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results
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Tags: collaborations, How to Raise Successful People, managing people, model behaviors, parenting, raising kids