If your child asks you permission to build a life size lego car so he can drive it, say yes.July 31, 2014
We often forget that each individual is the center of his own world, a world with its own magnetic field, so naturally everybody has a compass that points in a different direction - a different North.
I had a fairly typical childhood and typical parents in a not-so-typical place: Transylvania, Romania; better known for horror stories & mythical creatures than high tech & entrepreneurs. That wasn’t much of a problem though, because from a very young age (as far back as I can remember, really) my imagination and curiosity was set ablaze by the world around me to the despair of my parents that were always coming home to me smashing up something to see what’s inside – what they didn’t realize is that it was more than play, it was an experiment in progress and lucky for me after getting a bit pissed off about it ("We’re never buying new toys ever again!") they would leave me alone with the "spoils of war” and let the experiment run it’s course.
By my teens I’d already clocked years of experience hacking things apart and putting them back together, with the size & scope of my projects scaling up. That’s when I came up with a crazy idea: a mini-space program that would put a little toy shuttle into outer space! The only problem was the price tag: $1000, which is about 3 months salary in my country, so I started looking elsewhere. Two-hundred or so knocks on the door, somebody said yes, an Australian entrepreneur. I don’t think in any pre-internet scenario you could have conceived that a teenager from Romania and an entrepreneur from Australia would agree to my crazy plans and a Romanian-Australian JV was born that ended a month later in outer space.
Launch a JV to put something into outer space, a JV that ended a month later with a smashing success. Although worried about why the stranger from Australia is sending their child money over the internet, my parents let it happen, they trusted my judgment and took a step back. I'm extremely grateful for that. That’s when I realized, I wasn’t just some kid in a shed in Romania and the whole world wanted to know what was going on – I was skipping classes in high school to talk to the BBC, it all seemed crazy to me. Now you might think that I had a source of support for doing all these things, the truth is – there wasn’t one, it came from within, it always comes from within, nothing grows in the land where there is no seed, no matter how much you try and nurture it.
School vs. Education – in my country almost everyone goes to college, the one’s that don’t serve you food or swipe the floors being viewed as instant failures so it’s no surprise that mom & dad totally freaked out when I dropped the not-going-to-college bombshell, for about 3 months they pleeded with me to do go, telling I won’t have a bright future and so on, they couldn’t see beyond social convention, beyond the obvious but my compas was pointing North and the ship was on course, my course with strong winds blowing from stern and I kept that it even when the seas were rough and the going was though, working my way up to a few world firsts and now on track to becoming one of those silicon Valley zillionaires building a better world.
In most cases the skills & activities of your child and their future use lie beyond the line of sight in the realm of non-obvious, while parents mostly seek and operate on vanity metrics where it’s the diploma from english class or that macaroni painting you have on your fridge, chances are you use it to compare & measure, something you proudly share with all your parent friends: "look what Johnny did! Isn’t he smart?" Vicariously living through your child by making it a measure of self-worth though the stuff that really matters is what happens when nobody is looking, the things you can’t quantify or frame, or brag about to your friends, the little experiments your kid runs each day, that must not be interrupted or discouraged, the sum of failures that leads to success.
All I can say to parents out there is this: let the ship follow its course so if at some point your kid comes to you and says he will build a car out of lego so he can drive it, don’t dismiss it - it might be genius!
Raul Oaida is the 20-year old CTO of the Super Awesome Micro Project. SAMP is a car made of Lego, that drives, has an engine made from Lego, which runs on air. Raul worked on this brainchild with a partner, Steve Sammartino, who he met on the internet.