How parents can help Hong Kong create the next Google

Hong Kong’s telecommunications, transport and talent are among the very best in the world. Low taxes, efficiency and world-class infrastructure make the territory highly attractive to business start-ups. In a  Forbes article this year, Hong Kong was named first in “The World’s Top 4 Tech Capitals To Watch (After Silicon Valley and New York)”. With a  cosmopolitan population and a growing base of angel investors, our city has the potential to develop into a major regional start-up centre.

I have worked in Hong Kong’s technology sector for two decades, and it seems to me there is some room for improvement.

Despite the positive atmosphere and increased activity among the start-up community in recent times,   tech entrepreneurs are much more abundant in other Asian countries than in Hong Kong. So what can we do to encourage a more vibrant start-up culture?

When I started Outblaze more than 15 years ago, the local technology scene was dire. I was  often obliged to educate business acquaintances – including potential partners – by outlining the true potential of the internet. At the time, it was incredibly difficult to explain why our new business was a worthwhile venture. Prospective employees were sceptical of working for a cash-strapped start-up.

Thankfully, today those attitudes have changed radically: technology has become pervasive in everyday life and new tech opportunities are much more readily grasped by the business community. We all use Google, Wikipedia and Facebook on our digital devices, yet we tend to forget that the oldest of t

hese brands – Google – is   just a teenager. The success of young technology entrepreneurs is celebrated everywhere. Technology start-up fever is sweeping the world.

These are undoubtedly positive developments, but the global surge of technology entrepreneurship means that Hong Kong is merely moving in lockstep  with other markets; we are not producing any more start-ups than our neighbours and, in fact, the overall number employed in the local technology scene remains relatively low. Hong Kong needs to supercharge the entrepreneurship trend.

I believe parents hold the key to strengthening our start-up ecosystem. More specifically, the parents of “millennials” – children

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born in the 1980s and 1990s,  who are going to be our entrepreneurs of tomorrow.  A similar point was passionately debated at a panel I led at the recent StartmeupHK Venture Forum.

Hong Kong puts great emphasis on traditional Chinese values such as “face” and “respect for family”. The Chinese virtue of filial piety is   deeply ingrained in Hong Kong society, extolled in literature and culture. Because it is common for young  adults here to live with their parents well into their 30s, local parents often remain closely involved in their children’s lives.

In Hong Kong, parents have great influence over the adult decision-making  of their offspring. I remember vividly how some of our earliest university graduate recruits had to ask 8parental permission to join Outblaze when we were a start-up in the 1990s.

Today’s parents are beginning to accept that a job at a company  such as Google might just be superior to one at Citicorp or Morgan Stanley, but that’s still not enough. We need those same parents to encourage their children to work for a start-up or even convince them to set up a company of their own.

Society encourages us to revere successful people and to strive to match their achievements. As a result we often concentrate on a positive outcome instead of the effort required to achieve any outcome at all, be it success or failure. Our intense focus on attaining a desirable end point is a form of myopia, because we routinely neglect to appreciate the sweat, toil and occasional failures required to achieve success.

From our earliest school years, standardised education teaches us to avoid failure at all cost. This is a short-sighted miscalculation because success without failure is merely a lucky coincidence: it is by failing that we learn how to succeed.

Fear of failure and the need to save face are so deeply ingrained in the Hong Kong community that it has become difficult to accept any significant level of risk-taking. This attitude is often passed on to our children, for whom we want good, safe jobs.

We are doing our children a disservice. Parents of the millennial generation ought to consider the following:

Only five companies have exceeded US$500 billion in market capitalisation and  three of them are tech companies – Apple, Microsoft and Cisco. The five largest US companies by market cap at this time include no fewer than three tech companies – Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Many of the biggest companies by market capitalisation today,  such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, are still quite young and most did not even exist when we were children. There is a decent chance that your son or daughter will be a pioneer in the kind of company that does not yet exist today.

The richest phase of learning often begins after the completion of formal education, when one enters the workforce full time. Working for a cash-strapped, lean, management-by-crisis company (like a start-up) teaches efficiency, independence, a strong tactical approach and makes you more grateful for opportunities and resilient in character. This kind of experience is much more valuable than an MBA. Parents wield incredible influence over their children, even if they may not always appreciate this. Encourage your children to join a start-up or to set up their own company, and lend your love and emotional support to their cause.

This article first appeared on the South China Morning Post on 22nd December, 2013 http://bit.ly/J9KRbm

If Schools don’t tailor for you, tailor it for yourself

13 year old Logan Laplante tells us how he “hackschooled” his way into a tailor made education program that suited him best and the results, so far, seem obvious. Ultimately his message is that it’s about personal health and happiness (something all Parents generally wish for their Kids) and that doing something that inspires you personally will deliver better results with emphasis on physical and mental fitness, not just academic results. While this isn’t news to many of us we somehow don’t seem to practice this enough, especially with our children as they sit in the classroom going through a standardized curriculum 8 hours a day (not to mention ECA). Listen to his inspiring speech to learn more.

While there is naturally a lot of praise for this eloquent and smart young teenager, I think not enough credit has been given to his presumably very proud and happy parents. Afterall, it was their decision to change the program and go against the mainstream of “drone” education and it takes a lot of courage to do this especially because it is taking a relatively big chance on your Kids. Bravo to the Laporte’s (as a family).

Scratch, a great way to teach your Kids how to code

I’ve always been a big supporter of teaching children how to code at a very early age. My Son started coding when he was 7-8 years old and I already think that’s too late. The software I used for that is called Scratch and it’s a great free tool to teach kids the fundamentals of coding. In a world that is largely run by Software which is effectively code, not knowing how to program is a little bit like being able to read but not to write.

Mitch Resnick led the group that developed Scratch over at MIT and listen to what inspired him and why he thinks your children need to learn how to code too!

Children’s learning styles in the 21st Century

This is my speech at the Dr. Louise Porter Conference held in Hong Kong earlier this year were I raise some of our thoughts and ideas behind Children’s learning styles in the 21st century as part of our Thinkblaze initiative. In general I advocate for more responsible technology use in the family, rather than less and discuss concepts of how our children are affected with todays technology, videogames and internet use. The full blog post on the topic with all the videos can also be seen at: http://bit.ly/1a0assw

Moms & Gaming

The ESA just released this very interesting study Mom Gamers Study: A New Generation of Gamer that says that 74% of Mothers today play video games and most of them do so on a mobile device of some sort (Smartphone most likely).  Mothers today are also more likely to be playing a game at least once a week (and most play every day).

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What I also found important is that the the majority of them (71%) also indicate that they closely monitor the video game content of their children and that 56% of gaming Mom’s agree that they video gaming can be a family activity.

I think this is potentially a critical shift in the relationship of Parenting and Video Games. There are still a lot of influential people who consider video games as generally bad, especially for children. I disagree with this view but I won’t go into this debate today as I and many others have argued  previously that there are benefits in playing video games for children which has become a common discussion topic these days. What I have also said is that one can never expect any sort of  medium (TV and Video Games included) to replace Parenting and this shift of Mothers as active video game players who can also effectively monitor/play video games together with their kids is important as it could finally indicate a bridging of generations rather than a widening generation gap which has been the general trend so far.

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Only if Parents actually play video games will they understand it and therefore be able to correctly assess and appreciate their children’s video game play time for all the right reasons. I remember when I was answering questions in a parenting conference (Organized by Dr. Louise Porter) not too long ago it became clear to me that it was difficult for them to assess what was suitable for their child because they were unfamiliar with Video Games in general. Imagine if you had to try to determine the appropriate reading materials for your child but you were illiterate? Perhaps an exaggerated example but it’s in the same ballpark. If you don’t play video games at all or try to play together with your child, how will you ever understand why kids (and adults) are so fascinated with it?

The trend is clear. For all the parents who are not yet playing Video Games, apparently you are now in the minority so get moving and start playing games with your Kids if you want to get to know them better!