Rebellion of an Innovation Mom
June 5th, 2011
09:05 AM ET

Rebellion of an Innovation Mom

Editor's Note: Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter at @slaughteram.

By Anne-Marie Slaughter – Special to CNN

Call it the rebellion of the mother of two adolescents against the Tiger Moms, but what this nation needs to be innovative and entrepreneurial is to ask our kids to do less.

Innovation requires creativity; entrepreneurship requires a willingness to break the rules. The jam packed, highly structured days of elite children are carefully calculated to create Ivy League-worthy resumes. They reinforce habits of discipline and conformity, programming remarkably well-rounded and often superb young people who can play near concert-quality violin, speak two languages, volunteer in their communities and get straight A’s.

These are the students that I see in my Princeton classes; I am often in awe of their accomplishments and teaching them is a joy. But I strongly suspect that they will not be the inventors of the next "new new thing".

Creativity requires a measure of random association and connection and substantial periods of down time, where the mind is allowed to run and turn over seemingly disconnected bits of information, images, and ideas. Richard Florida, author of The Creative Class (follow him on Twitter at @richard_florida), observes that “many researchers see creative thinking as a four-step process: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification or revision.”

Incubation is “the ‘mystical’ step,” one in which both the conscious mind and the subconscious mull over the problem in hard-to-define ways.” Hard to define, yes, but not hard to foster, as long as chunks of the day or the week are left open for relatively random activity: long walks, surfing the Internet, browsing a bookstore, household chores that don’t require too much thought, watching the birds at the birdfeeder and gazing out at the ocean.

Tune In: Sunday 8pm ET/PT as Fareed Zakaria explores why innovation is the key to America's future on CNN.

Creativity gurus often suggest ways to add randomness to your life. Left to their own devices, teenagers are masters at drifting from fad to fad, website to website, and event to event as their fancy takes them, but that seemingly aimless, random wandering is exactly what we are programming out of them.

Entrepreneurship means undertaking something new, something that you create or make happen that does not exist in your space. It does not have to require breakthrough innovation; successful entrepreneurs can borrow ideas that are succeeding elsewhere and transfer them. But our most famous entrepreneurs have a vision and follow it in defiance of conventional wisdom.

One of the nation’s leading entrepreneurs recently listened to me pitch a new idea and patiently told me the many reasons it was unlikely to work and/or that I was the wrong person to make it happen at this point in my life. But at the end of our conversation, he smiled and said: “Of course, every successful entrepreneur started with an idea that other people said would not work but persevered anyway. So go for it.”

Read and Watch: China poses an innovation challenge to the U.S.

To nurture young people who are willing to persevere in the face of deep skepticism or outright opposition, we must reward them or at least allow them to be rewarded for breaking the rules, not meeting our expectations by jumping through an endless series of hoops.

Remember that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to follow their passions.

Can we really imagine kids who have done absolutely everything expected of them both in and out of school being willing to ignore their college courses and their parents’, teachers’, and coaches’ expectation to suddenly pursue their own path?

Check Out: More from the "Global Innovation Showcase" created by the New America Foundation and the Global Public Square.

The U.S. higher educational system recognizes the value of challenging authority; that is what “teaching critical thinking” is all about. I wrote in 2009 that the U.S. was primed to remain an innovation leader precisely because we give A’s for the answers that challenge the teacher’s thinking and B’s for the answers that echo it.

China, by contrast, is not a country where the government is likely to foster challenging authority any time soon. But a genuinely entrepreneurial, creative nation cannot reward such thinking only in the classroom. We must openly value rule breakers, rebels, and iconoclasts and hold them up as role models. Scary stuff for parents of teenagers, of course – we are then inviting them to challenge our authority. And many readers are already no doubt thinking that Gates and Zuckerberg had to get in to Harvard to be able to drop out of it, and their paths in were not exactly unconventional (they both excelled at exclusive prep schools).

Read: Fareed Zakaria's TIME article, The Future of Innovation: Can America Keep Pace?

True, but Gates at least demonstrated a willingness to break the rules at an early age; he and three fellow students got banned by a computer company for exploiting bugs in a program to get free computer time.

For anyone noticing that my two examples are both men, that may not be accidental. I recall many conversations when I was teaching at Harvard Law School about why our women students did better on average than our male students but that the superstars of the class – the kids who were reinventing legal doctrines on their exam essays – were almost always male.

Read and Watch: A brief history of innovation

By contrast, one researcher had found that women were more likely to be at the very top of their class at Suffolk Law School, where they were often the first women or even the first children in their families even to go to law school. My colleagues posited that these young women had had to break the mold at every step, and had been rewarded for it, in contrast to the many elite young women who are rewarded for meeting expectations – for being good girls.

A Princeton study on women’s leadership has just found that women are far more likely to take second chair leadership positions, supporting the organization and getting the work done as vice-chair, executive editor, or secretary, than to have their name at the top of the masthead.

One young woman surveyed referred to “the intensity of self-effacement,” acknowledging the social pressures on girls not to “put themselves forward.” Are not we still much more likely to reward girls for being good, while bad boys get “boys will be boys”? Who is more likely to carve their own path? On the other hand, women who leave conventional corporate and legal career path to be the kind of parents they want to be are then much more likely to start their own businesses because they require the flexibility of being their own bosses, so we may have cultural counter-currents fostering female entrepreneurship later in life.

Read and Watch: Fareed Zakaria on innovation online and on TV.

Finally, Tiger Mothering encourages competition over cooperation. The discipline that competition enforces – in the daily practice of a sport, instrument, writing or performing art – is important for later success of any kind, conventional or entrepreneurial. But the verification or revision stage of the creative process often comes from tossing ideas around among members of a trusted group, as does the courage to launch something new.

In a recent piece on the perception that the current generation of young people are slackers, Jon Gosier notes that their habit of asking for help and wanting to work with others reflects their understanding of the gains that come from teamwork, which “have been learned from the collaborative nature of their childhood activities, which included social networks, crowd-sourcing and even video games like World of Warcraft.”

The corporate culture at hubs of innovation like Google and Twitter encourages employees to hang out together, work together and explore random ideas in a collaborative atmosphere.

Read: Are we still an innovation nation?

Nothing in this post is meant to reflect on the problems with secondary education in the majority of U.S. schools across the nation, where kids need more hours in the classroom and hard work on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. But to be an innovation nation in the knowledge-based, networked economy of the 21st century, we must remember that creativity and entrepreneurship cannot be programmed, and that less is often more.

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Topics: Culture • Education • Innovation • United States

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soundoff (333 Responses)
  1. Thomas Cain

    Its sad that we have to have stories like this in major media to give some ray of hope for the mothers of the next generation of Americans whos futures have already been greatly undermined by critical structural economic mistakes. Innovation is not going to save the next generation. Sane economic policy will.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  2. PDEngineer

    Another dose of self-assuring soma. True innovation requires grounding in the foundations of a discipline. It isn't about letting adults free-base everywhere. Take my field of work, for example. Innovation is targeted at high-throughput technologies, rational protein design, and cloning to name a few. The existing technologies out there are already competitive...anything from far left field would not hold a candle to slow, methodical optimization of a current technology. You ask how then do we see leaps in technology? The answer is quite simple...you do not really see it. To think this way is to be so haughty as to ignore usually decades of research, and equally as important, unexpected results, that goes into formulating new realities. Simply pulling ideas out of your rear accomplishes nothing. What about the humanities? Literature and the arts of course take a measure of creativity, but without at least some guidance, few can direct their talents to their maximum. I studied philosophy in college and I can comfortably say that intellectual creativity is a realized difference of perspective that would be useless unless the perspectives of others are also studied.

    Nothing wrong with letting your kids play. You can have fun while you learn, in fact if you do not you should try something else. Play is important, but hard work is perhaps just as important. Never confuse the two or try to substitute one for the other.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • PDEngineer

      The only real measure of creativity that this author is hinting at with her horrid examples is the creative force a person may have when navigating the annals of corporate greed. How to screw people over...now THAT takes some real creativity!

      Remember Einstein did poorly in school, but that was because he was bored with the subject matter and longed to theorize new ideas...unlike this author's two role models who wanted to make heaps of cash. Remember Einstein worked for the patent office (fairly diligently, I might add) to support himself while he formulated this theories. Remember Einstein was widely refuted in the beginning and criticized for his ideas, but showed DEMONSTRATIVE proof. Remember Einstein proudly claiming at his Nobel acceptance speech that his years of unstructured play was the ultimate factor in his formulation of his theories.

      Oh yeah, that last part did not happen.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Reply
      • PDEngineer

        I should have written "he attempted to show" proof. One of his buddies got nabbed by the Ruskies when war broke out and they were in Russia scurrying around with telescopes. I can't really blame the Soviets, though...

        In any case, remember Einstein had the knowledge to test his theory in a practical way.

        June 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
      • James

        I think Nikola Tesla and Leonardo Da Vinci are better examples of innovative thinkers. They both spent lots of time procrastinating and day dreaming, thinking in abstract ways. Both had visualisation skills way above average, both of them could generate ideas that society was not ready for. They both had a thirst for learning, and took great steps within their lives to go against mindless conformity.

        My interpretation of the article is that getting kids to jump through hoops all the time and do what they are told just makes them better at doing that. It doesn't make them good at thinking independently, to question what is being taught, and to question what they are being told to do. That is the basis for innovative thinking – to want to learn, but also to question everything until you decide on your own path, whether it goes with or against what society tells you.

        June 10, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • kat

      sane voice!

      June 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  3. MacB

    It's unfortunate that we are attacking our schools and teachers daily while they teach our children the one missing and hard to measure ingredient that has been the secret of success in the United States. Creative, independent thinking.

    Despite all of those high test scores in Asia, the best they can do is improve an invention from the United States.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Reply
    • KeithTexas

      I have never seen or heard of Independent thinking being encouraged in any public school. It is discouraged in college, or to restate that, it is you want to pass it is easier to regurgitate what the professor says in their lectures.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  4. Pat

    LOL, the myth that parents can control their kids never gets old.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  5. Suzi starz n peace

    on this point we could use a 4day work week to give us more time off to think 🙂 also maybe we should learn from history and look back at what the great thinkers and inventors did to get where they got???

    June 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  6. Michelle G

    I think kids need more flex time built into the school day. No one can really absorb information for 8 hours straight. I think kids would be able to retain information and even use it creatively if they were given time to think about it. Perhaps a 15 minute meditation built into the end of every class? Where kids have a moment to rest their minds and refocus before the next onslaught of facts is thrown at them. I think kids also need more social time built into the school day. A lunchtime of 25 minutes is not enough for kids to be social, and then they spend all of their class time pre-occupied with social affairs. Not to mention that many ideas really grow and take form when they can be shared with others.

    Perhaps if kids had time built into their school day for breaks that included time to socialize and maybe meditate then they would have time to be creative and just maybe we wouldn't have to drug so many kids with stimulants to keep them focused.

    I don't think kids need more time in school, just better quality education. QUALITY not QUANTITY when it comes to education.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • Cindy R

      Bravo, Michelle. You hit the nail on the head.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  7. timothyn

    What a bunch of B.S. This writer makes sweeping assumptions/generalizations without any data to back her claims. If anything, kids nowadays need less "downtime". When was the last time you saw a bum invent anything? Having structure in life, being motivated to get A's, and volunteering are all things that help students acquire skills necessary to build future inventions. Most inventers were highly motivated and worked very hard to build great things - if the kids are not instilled those qualities, how can you expect them to be future inventers??
    I cringed when she mentions "Mark Zuckerber" and "Bill Gates" - both of whom actually did not invent anything. What even funnier is that both actually did go to Ivy League schools (even though they dropped out) - so you see, they did have structure in life to get to Ivy League in first place.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Reply
    • kat

      couldn`t say it better!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      June 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
    • KeithTexas

      The students that are the brightest and the most innovative at MIT do not do it in a class room where anything is taught. They are challenged to solve problems and are given the time to dream.

      Pushing children does not encourage innovation. A college education without imagination is worthless. There are a lot of folks with college degrees working at the local hardware store.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  8. Neil

    Your article on "innovation" lost my attention as soon as I saw the meme cliché "TIGER MOM".
    I immediately came to the conclusion the professor/author is not only a symptom she IS THE PROBLEM if students aren't challenged.
    The truest cliché is "necessity" is mother of all invention.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Reply
    • timothyn

      agree 100%.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Reply
    • ES

      Exactly.
      But you also need to have the skills and knowledge to be able to innovate. For example, the founders of Goole where actually very good at math and computers to be able to actually create google algorthm. They didn't create it by going easy on themselves and having free play time and being noncompetetive.
      The main driver in innovation is ability to think critically and also to be able to learn on your own. I noticed american students expect everything to be taught to them, they don't take initative and learn on their own.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
      • Thomas

        Exactly. Learn the fundamentals and other stuff in school but learn the specific skill you want from the Internet and books. Plus you need to have goals. Otherwise, you will grow lazy.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Thomas

      Did you even read the article? She was just comparing herself to a Tiger Mom.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  9. J. Mark Lane

    This may actually be the best piece I've ever read on CNN. And I'm old. I remember when CNN was created. Nice article! Really, absolutely brilliant.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  10. Bruce

    Marilyn Mach listed as having one of the highest IQ's ever can be seen on youtube in an interview 25 years ago talking similiarly about allowing our children to go off into areas that interest them. Stop producing well rounded scholars. Let students advance and excel in areas that interest them from an early age. I think I also recall her saying to stop teaching shakespeare to high school kids who havent experienced enough of life to understand it fully.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Reply
    • Bruce

      "Marilyn vos Savant – Raising Intelligent Children" The woman said to have the highest IQ in the world at that time. check out the small 8 minute portion of this interview over 25 yrs ago. Near the end of that interview you hear that the govt might be getting exactly what it wants out of the education system.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  11. ES

    Kids don't learn innovation by doing nothing. They elarn innovation by struggling with problems for which they are not given cookie-cutter solutions.
    I am russian, and our system of education when it is at its best is compeltely different from either western or asian.
    Asian is based on endless memorization, they are like highly skilled robots but are unable to think for themselves. Westerners are too undisciplined. They have imagination but cannot do anything with it because they ahve no basic skills and luck certain stubborness that is required to try and try again.
    To make use of innovation you ahve to develop critical thinking and it doesn't matter what political system is around you. It doesn't apply to criticl thinking in science. USSR's mathematicians were among the best even though they had to keep mum about the communism.
    The bottom line is tog et to innovation – learn how to apply the basics and then give the children progressively more difficult tasks from various areas without so that they can build on their basic skills, apply critical thinking and develop preserverance. Don't concentrate some such on memorization like spelling bees. Spelling bees are useless. Spend the time on math and science olympiads instead.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • kat

      Yes!!!!! I`m Russian, and I totally understand what you are talking about! Unfortunately, it seems like the Soviet education is being ruined in Russia now.

      I am so happy my child is attending the Russian School of Mathematics.It is unbelievable to see her progress. It is the way to go. i wish they had branches in every major city in America. The interesting thing is who the majority of students are , at least, in our area- Indians. They really value the quality, which, in their words, cannot be compared to something like "Kumon"

      June 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Reply
      • checi

        Saw a Russian playing jazz piano in a NYC jazz club. He was technically perfect but had ZERO soul.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
      • Eight 1000

        to Checi,

        What kind of jazz was the pianist playing, and was it to your liking?

        Maybe you couldn't match the wavelength the pianist was exuding. It happens.

        Did you ask how long the pianist had played piano, or what his influences were?

        June 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Eight 1000

      I think I understand what you are saying.

      It sounds good. (nods)

      June 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Reply
    • ES

      > checi
      Saw a Russian playing jazz piano in a NYC jazz club. He was technically perfect but had ZERO soul.

      Russians, especially ones from the arts world are generally pretty spiritual. Read russian literature and you'll see that we forever go about the meaning of life. So, I don't think it is the lack of soul issue.
      In this paticular case there could be 2 explanations : 1. the pianist is from the classic schools and doesn't really relate to the american music and is doing jazz for money 2. he is from the school that beleives the perfomance shouldn't be tainted by the artists own emotions and the art should be passed through to the listner pure and untainted. I don't agree personally , I like to see things through the artists's eyes. Sometimes it makes you percieve things completely differently.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  12. Om Prakash

    If you are a good student and get 'As', you may go to Ivy leage colleges and make decent living. Compare that to free for all. You either become drug dealer or crazy or on other spectrum Bill gate and make billions. We all know what kind of living you make by being drug dealer. No tax, keep all the money you want. But if you happen to become innovative guy and make billions US society will declare you rich, blood sucker etc and demand that you pay for every body's life style in form of very high tax.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
    • KeithTexas

      Let us know when it happens to you. I doubt you have anything to worry about.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  13. JoeMRe

    The US has never been an innovative nation – that's a cultural myth we've been handed. We stole (looted) the accomplishments of the German rocket scientists to launch our space program, without them, we'd be renting satellites from the Russians. We developed the auto, but our competition was bombed to rubble (Germany and Japan) by us after WWII and lagged 20 years behind while made large, expensive behemoths with market dominance. Once everything evened out they became the two most recognized auto manufacturers in the world and we ship all of our manufacturing to China. Our government is so addicted to its gasoline tax revenue that it has blocked new fuel technology for 50 years at the expensive of thousands of lives abroad and at home to remain involved in oil rich arab countries we would otherwise care less about. Manufacturing, healthcare, public railways, we lag behind all of Europe and Asia.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Reply
    • checi

      You watch too much television. Automobiles were developed in England and France too. It was an American who invented mass production of cars. Maybe that's what you're thinking of.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Reply
      • cars

        And how many American car companies have survived? Seems to me that our most popular cars today are German or Japanese. Clearly the US didn't innovate fast enough.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  14. WuDayi

    One problem with promoting innovation in the United States and Europe is that senior scholars in any given field are given first, free, view of any new scholarship in their field, because the review process for publication requires that scholars, especially junior scholars with all of the new, refreshing ideas, have to pass the review of the senior scholars before they can get published. It is a well-known but taboo fact that such senior scholars scalp the junior scholars during the review process, publishing quickly papers plagiarizing the young scholars' work, before the young scholars can publish their own work, of course, in journals edited by their senior buddies, thus leaving the junior scholars in a quandary: speak up and get reamed by the field, or just accept having been screwed by the field. Ultimately, this turns young scholars off and turns them toward alternative fields of interest. The US / European system is institutionalized to favor the established scholar, rendering for the convenience of the Institution any question of the senior scholars' authority a breach of ethics. The institution kills creativity, stifles the interest of the young, and is essentially a system that is rotten to its core. The best at theft end up at the elite institutions, wherefrom they control the field, and the bright and energetic youth who've been utterly screwed by the institution of the discipline end up leaving the field or taking shoot-ass jobs in nowhweresville because they've been scooped of everything that they owned. Those who end up at Ivies are, often, simply the best at thieving in either / both of an ingenious or institutionally sanctioned way. Something needs to be done.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Reply
    • KeithTexas

      Innovation and advancements in any field do not come out of Academia. As an example, if they knew anything our public schools wouldn’t be failing our children so horribly. The academics have set up the system as we know it and we are 35th in the world. Why would they want to achieve excellence? They do but they don’t know how.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Reply
      • WuDayi

        Not really true. The academics have a leg-up in everything, from intelligence of the field, to well-funded labs, to federal funding. They are, in fact, critical, to most of the innovations that we witness in our lives. The problem is, often, for every "great scholar" who claims to have innovated, there is an unknown young woman or man who has been stripped, ignominiously, of her / his invention. Please refrain from believing the populist hype that the great new innovations in our world emerge from non-institutional individuals. It is the institution that provides the funding necessary for the brightest to invent something truly on the cusp. But it is also the institution that enables the theft of the most ingenious, ledger-breaking ideas and applications from those who actually come up with the idea. It's rotten and needs to be overhauled.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
      • Skeeve

        Kindly, please give me an example of a major innovation that didn't come from academia.

        June 5, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
      • Example

        How about the theory of General Relativity which has changed the whole way the universe if looked at. This change in thought has brought about countless inovations in space travel. These changes have allowed for the cell phones, GPS, TV, and other satellite technologies to work correctly. All this you would think would have come from someone with a doctoral degree.

        No this was accomplished by someone without a high school diploma, someone who in his free time would just think about the experiments, could not do if forced to always be doing something by his parents.

        Albert Einstien.

        June 10, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • JP0

      The true innovators are not trapped in that system. Publish or perish is the venue of of educated small minds. Intelligence and education are a good combination but they are independent characteristics. You can have one without the other.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Reply
      • WuDayi

        The "true innovators" rely on both the structure and funding of the academic system to develop their new ideas. Wonderful to laud the wonders of the independent innovator, but, let's see, now, how many, what percentage, can actually beat the institutional system that is set up to control or abscond with one's ideas? Any institutionalized system, such as ours, worldwide, will require a "payment" for access. How much of one's ideas is one willing to "pay" in order to access the system? This is something of a "Duh!" matter. Unless you're an idiot, beware.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
      • JP0

        I for one do not rely on the academic system. Academic institutions and National Labs are my customers. Some of my funding comes in the form of SBIR and STTR grants. As a private innovator I publish few details of my technology and I cannot afford patents unless my customer wants to pay.

        June 5, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
      • WuDayi

        It's wonderful that you're able to do this, but how many can do so? We're talking about a nation and its up-and-coming youth, their access, and their preparation. Not so many will be able to be as entrepreneureal AND as innovative as you, both. Most will require an institution to assist - and rob - them.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  15. Carl H

    My head hurts now. Sounds like the author wants to sound like she's super intelligent when her entire point could have been summed up in a couple paragraphs. Instead she went on and on for no real reason. I don't envy her students, who probably fall asleep if her lectures are anything like this article.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  16. Kermit Roosevelt

    Damn right. I've been saying this to anyone who has expressed fear of the "Asian Invasion". Rote learning, especially with those from a culture accustomed to centuries of slavish behavior, results in artificially inflated grades through school years, but a complete collapse by adulthood. And so shall fall the entire nation of China as well.

    America always triumphs. We tend to fall into cyclical periods of complacency, but at the end of the day America represents the pinnacle of where homo sapiens has been heading since the race first left Africa to move across the planet.

    So go ahead Tiger Moms, keep beating your children into scholarships. My children will still be their rulers in the end.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
    • LOL

      Hello, China manufacture a large majority of your goods. If China suddenly decides to stop importing EVERYTHING to America... say goodbye to the American economy! Joy! Your final statement sounds racist, by the way. Also, Asians are typically paid more (racism once again) than their white counterparts. America also represents the world's biggest garbage dump, fattest population, worst test scores of all developed nations, the biggest consumer of oil, and the most powerful military on our planet. Yet, we also represent life, liberty, and happiness. America's education is worse than the education that Chinese kids living in a slum in China get! Isn't that some miracle? A child from China can somehow beat out a super-privileged American child! Wow! I think one of the most important secret words of success is 'motivation.' As long as our competitors are more motivated, they will eventually defeat us.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Reply
      • Kermit Roosevelt

        You're cute.

        Education doesn't mean squat if you can't cut it in the real world - Asians in America all fall apart once they're out of school, and the only innovators in China are being pushed by the state. And I make toys for a living, by the way, so I'm way more familiar with how they work than you probably are.

        Read this article. Go ahead and call me racist, but cultural destiny is cultural destiny: http://nymag.com/news/features/asian-americans-2011-5/

        As for fat, lazy Americans, yep, that's pretty much the 10% that are currently unemployed, and the majority of them are uneducated, entitled third-generation blue collarists who bought into the con job of having a white collar lifestyle on a blue collar salary sold to them by the unions the last 20-30 years. They will die off and their children, unable to find any other work, will be happy to return to manufacturing for considerably lower than what their overcompensated forbears were paid. When that happens, the new generation of American innovators will stand out. By that time, the Chinese will collapse just like the Japanese. Watch what happens when the Chinese laborers start costing too much for the goods being produced.

        As for Asians being paid more than whites, I 'd like to see if you can ever find any evidence to support that. Just ain't happening.

        You're probably not white to begin with, hence your resentment-fueled refutation. Please, go flip your burgers and get off the computer you borrowed.

        June 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  17. Emily

    The inventor Thomas Edison had exactly three months of formal education. After that his mother and father taught him and encouraged him (and then kicked his science experiments out of the house when they got too smelly.)

    Isaac Newton had his great breakthrough while on school furlough, sitting under an apple tree.

    (This is not to say that neither one of them did the hard work of learning.)

    You could also read up on the life of Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday, Nikola Tesla, Nathaniel Bowditch, James Watt, etc.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Reply
    • ES

      Wonder why all the examples are from 200-300 years old, from the beggining of scinece age. try inventing something today without knowing that has already been discovered in the given area. And I mean science here.
      In arts or literature every day is a new day. So, there is a big difference.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
      • Kermit Roosevelt

        Yes, you're right, I remember reading about those ancient sages, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg...

        June 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
      • JP0

        Any inventor will tell you that he stands on the shoulders of giants. Education and knowledge are important ingredients. A little ADHD is probably useful, too. The most important ingredient is the lack of fear of making a mistake. If you want to innovate get busy, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
      • Emily

        Thomas Edison did not live 200-300 years ago. He lived from 1847-1931. Tesla was roughly that generation. Einstein lived a generation later.

        I would love to discuss the educational background of the inventors of gunpowder, the compass, the wheel, etc., but I don't know who they are. Cai Lun is credited with paper, but I can't find much about him, probably because he lived nearly 2,000 years ago.

        June 5, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • ES

      > Yes, you're right, I remember reading about those ancient sages, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg...

      I missed the part where they got only 3 months of formal education.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
      • WuDayi

        Mistakes are internal. Getting robbed is external. Figure it out. There is a danger of losing one's ideas, and it has nothing to do with the creative process but rather the process of getting your ideas known. Ummmmmm, there are TWO distinct processes, mammunia.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  18. KeithTexas

    Many of the children described in the first paragraphs of this article spend their whole lives wondering why every one doesn't know how special they are. Rule followers are not the innovators of tomorrow. They will take their place among the sheep, stand in line and do what they are told.

    Raising an innovator is a challenge though so be careful what you wish for. My son quit school at 17 and joined the Marines. Went to two wars, got home safely, started a business and did well. Now at 38 he is starting his third business and just paid cash for a new million dollars plus home. Along the way it was pretty hard to be his father, and at times I was sure I had made some major mistakes. I did raise him to question authority, ask questions and never take no for an answer. He never did get to college but he teaches a college class at the University in San Diego

    June 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Reply
    • Kermit Roosevelt

      I hear you brother...I'm on the early side of that story myself and the hardest thing is having to watch the boy go through the necessary fire that forges that kind of success. Congratulations by the way, and I hope to be telling the same story in a decade or so.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  19. Trish

    Hey Guys, will you visit HelpFaye.ORG a friend of mine is fighting for her life.... Thanks

    June 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  20. DD

    I gave the kids all the free time they could handle and they're brilliant. One is going to engineering school & will probably steer or invent the next generation of personal transportation.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
    • WuDayi

      Wonderful! But, please, warn him of the dangers of losing his / her work to seniors in the fielf, and instruct him / her in the ways of protecting his / her proprietary work.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Reply
      • JP0

        A really innovative person will not worry about protecting his ideas. He will be so far ahead of the competition that many can ride in his wake. You want my ideas? Fine. I have better ones coming. Actually part of the American success is avoiding small minded paranoiac obsession with not getting your ideas stolen. That stifles the kind of interaction that can lead to real innovation.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • JP0

      I think you've got it right. The main thing is to be curious and don't develop a fear of making mistakes.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
      • WuDayi

        Try getting your ideas stolen once or twice, and you will sing a new tune, brother.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
      • JP0

        I have given away more ideas than most people have in a lifetime. This is not an issue with me.

        June 5, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
      • WuDayi

        That's a great thing, but most cannot the resources that you apparently possess.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  21. Bruce

    "Marilyn vos Savant – Raising Intelligent Children" The woman said to have the highest IQ in the world at that time. check out the small 8 minute portion of this interview over 25 yrs ago. Near the end of that interview you hear that the govt might be getting exactly what it wants out of the education system.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  22. Scott

    I think gauging success on academic achievement and job placement is strangling the human soul. Remember when expecting parents only hoped for a healthy baby, and when the child grew up he or she would find happiness and love? All you had to do to be a successful parent was to instill upon your child the morals of right and wrong. With that in place your child would grow up respecting the comfort zones of others while carving out his or her own. Some became scientist, others became janitors-and if they were happy, they were successful.

    We can't all be Ivy league superstars, fortunately in the context of the big picture regarding the human soul, we don't have to. Once you got right and wrong down, you can't lose.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Reply
    • WuDayi

      You're absolutely right regarding individual lives, but the article was about how to maintain our NATIONAL preeminence in innovation (if ever we actually achieved any such thing - the comment by one interlocuter about the absorption by the US of German technicians and theorists in the post-War era is very good - see "Operation Paperclip"). That is, how, as a nation, are we to encourage our youth to innovate beyond the cusp of what they find before them? Whether this nationalistic approach is a worthy cause is better left to philosophers and soothsayers of political science, but, here, with regard to this article, the question remains nationalistic, not individualistic or ethical.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  23. Dana L

    Notice the sexist language that is so common of female writers and news reporters: "... when I was teaching at Harvard Law School about why our women students did better on average than our male students but that the superstars of the class ..." She specifically uses "women students" and then in the same sentence "male students." If she had used "female students" and "men students," femalists would be calling her a misogynist. Is it safe to call her a misandrist for her choice of labels? I think so.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  24. Jason

    So it is an individual versus group statistical analysis. Here is the choice.
    1. A tiger mom leads to high probability of a successful individual – but not create innovators for the society. Low risk for the individual, not so good for the society.
    2. An innovaton mom leads to a high variability of success at an individual level – but creates a number of successful innovators. High Risk for an individual but good for the society.

    So what is good for an individual is not good for the society and vice versa.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Reply
    • ES

      Ther are actually proven methods to develop creativity but they requre compeltely different approach than is used today in schools. Teh tests shouldn't be multiple choice. The teaching should be much mote challenging instead of just teaching how to solve standard issues and memorization. it involves the same structured learnign and hard work , but also forces thinking outside the box, outside of your comfort zone.
      Here is one example. When we started learning multi-dimnesional geometry in 8th grade the teacher made us prove the theorems based on a set of axioms. And then we had to compare them to the ones in the book and see where we made mistakes. But it made us think vs. simply memorizing yet another set of theorems. You'll never see something like that in an americans school.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Reply
      • WuDayi

        Ummmm, then, why did I experience that, exactly, in an American school in the 1970s?

        June 5, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
      • ES

        > WuDayi
        Ummmm, then, why did I experience that, exactly, in an American school in the 1970s?

        Where was that? I want to send my kids there -))

        June 5, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
      • WuDayi

        St. Paul Academy.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  25. JJ

    I agree. The concept of the "Tiger Mom" is like the concept of the "Cougar". Both are meaningless and produce nothing but fluff. Those elite kids with their elite, structure childhoods succeed at only one thing: being elite sheep. Shiny coats, polished hooves and "Baaah's" in three languages, but still sheep. My child will be a success, but not because of the structured cr*p, the constant competition and the parent-facing idiocy of raising kids like you raise racing horses. It's because my child will be happy, doing something he loves to do because his parents supported his desire to explore in the directions his heart told him to go, rather than where his parents thought he should be. And he will always be happier than someone who thinks they are better off because they have more money, a newer car or a corner office. Guaranteed.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  26. Shrikant Kalegaonkar

    Innovation happens when apparently disparate ideas recombine to solve a problem in a new and better way. So, Anne-Marie Slaughter has a point when she writes:

    "Creativity requires a measure of random association and connection and substantial periods of down time, where the mind is allowed to run and turn over seemingly disconnected bits of information, images, and ideas."

    But, the assumption she makes is that kids at play are developing "domain knowledge" – a deep understanding of concepts in a given area – that they can then manipulate & recombine in innovative ways. Is that happening with kids today? I don't know, but I'm inclined to think not.

    In her example of innovators, Anne-Marie fails to appreciate the single minded focus and drive that Gates & Zuckerberg had for their respective fields. Gates was obsessed with computers & spent countless hours of his youth tinkering with them to build domain knowledge. He was an expert in every sense of the word. Zuckerberg was obsessed in the same way about programming. He too developed domain knowledge in his area. It's this expertise that then allowed them to see opportunities in their fields they could exploit through their creativity and innovation.

    At the core of innovation is learning. Without learning there is nothing. No creativity. No innovative ideas. No progress. The responsibility of adults and mentors is to help others learn how to learn and be efficient learning machines. To Anne-Marie's point, they don't need to dictate what kids or their mentees should learn. That passion needs to come from within. Culturally we've forgotten how to learn and instead focus on rote memorization. We need to get back to learning regardless of age.

    For more on learning & experimentation I'd suggest people lookup W Edward Deming and his Plan-Do-Study-Act learning cycle.

    Cheers,
    Shrikant Kalegaonkar
    twitter: shrikale

    June 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply
    • BB

      Right on point.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  27. GOTTHUMBS

    I'd recommend you take this with a grain of salt. The US has far too many lazy children to contest with now and in the future. Balance is needed in all areas of ones life. Food as well as knowledge. Problems lie with those parents who have no involvement in their children's lives. Or are still children them-selves. If the average child had his/her way....they'd play x-box all day or spend hours on face-book (IMO a complete waste of time)

    June 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  28. Hz

    What really needs to happen is for people to careful take notice of kids early on and determine how they learn best and if they're creative. No, not everyone is creative. I was very bored with school and did so so at best in it unless I was given a goal like 'if you get an A you get this prize', then i went all out and would win the prize every time. I had a lazy approach to university too until I heard that I needed over 3.0 to graduate and then suddenly I was getting 3.5s and 4.0 on everything. Different people need different kinds of motivation.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
    • ES

      And also different learnign tracks. There is no one size fits all solution yet his is what is done in the US schools out of political correctness. This is why the results are mediocre. Most bright kids are not developed to their full potential in K-12 schools ( unless parents work with them extra) and then in college for most it is too late to catch up.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  29. Ichi

    BS. American's don't need creativity and innovation. The US already ranks number one in that category, we need to get working on the educational system!

    June 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Reply
  30. Daniel

    I do agree with this author's methods. The whole "Tiger Mom" things reads a little too much like somebody who's been raised in a Totalitarian regime with a gun at their back. Hey there's a reason despite having over 3 times as many people as us China has spent all of our existance looking at our backside, it's because we are leaders and they are followers, our system works, theirs does not, even if they say they are gonna pass us I still will not recognize them or their system as greater. A country with more people should have more money than one with less, it's natural. It is wholly unnatural that even when China has passed us in terms of overall value they will still be far far far behind us in terms of individual prosperity.

    Long live freedom, prosperity, and the American people. Death to Tiger Mom fascists everywhere.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Reply
    • WuDayi

      Suggest that one relinquish the self-satisfying blinders and face the reality of a China (or anywhere) that can beat us at our own Euro-American schema of the world. That is, if nationalism will matter in anywhere from 20 to 50 years.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Reply
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