The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Equipping Students for the Future of Work

The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Equipping Students for the Future of Work

Rapid innovation in technology, automation, and artificial intelligence is changing how we work, learn, and play. The pace of change is such that by the time students complete their education, the skills they have learned may no longer be relevant in the job market.  While traditional educational models may struggle to keep up, we have an exciting opportunity to reimagine learning. 

By embracing entrepreneurship and nurturing entrepreneurial ethics, education can equip students with the resilience and adaptability needed to thrive in tomorrow’s diverse and dynamic job market.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset

Entrepreneurship isn’t just about starting businesses.  It’s a way of thinking that empowers individuals to adapt, innovate, and create value in the face of adversity. It cultivates essential skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, adaptability, creativity, learning from setbacks and failures, and calculated risk-taking. These skills are valuable in any career path, empowering individuals to be proactive, resilient, and seize opportunities.

Traditional education often prioritizes comfort and clear answers. Entrepreneurial education flips the script, encouraging students to experiment, embrace challenges, and learn from setbacks. It helps students learn two of the most important skills for the future – learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable and how to be content living with uncertainty. As the world continues to change faster than ever, students must be prepared to navigate ambiguity and embrace the unknown. 

Entrepreneurial education provides a unique opportunity to cultivate this mindset by exposing students to real-world challenges and encouraging them to step outside their comfort zones.

By nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset in students, we help them build the resilience, adaptability, creativity, and emotional intelligence needed to navigate any challenge that comes their way. Whether they choose to start their own ventures or pursue careers in established organizations, students with an entrepreneurial mindset are better equipped to identify opportunities, drive innovation, and create positive change.

Why Entrepreneurial Education Matters

The traditional focus on rote memorization falls short of preparing students for the future. Entrepreneurial education bridges this gap. Here’s how:

  • Problem-solving and critical thinking: Entrepreneurship requires students to identify real-world problems and develop innovative solutions. Doing this helps develop the ability to analyze complex situations and make informed decisions.
  • Creativity and innovation: By encouraging students to think outside the box and explore novel ideas, entrepreneurial education nurtures their creative potential and helps them develop the skills needed to drive innovation in their future careers.  
  • Adaptability and resilience: The entrepreneurial journey is often fraught with challenges and setbacks. By learning to embrace failure as a learning opportunity and persevere in the face of adversity, students develop the adaptability and resilience necessary to thrive in an ever-changing job market.
  • Digital Skills: As technology continues to reshape the world of work, digital skills have become increasingly essential. Entrepreneurial education provides students with opportunities to develop proficiency in areas such as coding, data analysis, digital marketing, and the use of emerging technologies like AI, AR (augmented reality), and VR (virtual reality).
  • Storytelling: Effective communication is key to success. Entrepreneurial programs teach students to craft compelling narratives, present ideas persuasively, and connect with their audience. Sharing your vision can be a powerful tool in any career path, from leadership roles to mission-driven nonprofits.
  • Lifelong Learning: The ability to continuously learn and adapt is paramount. Entrepreneurial education fosters a growth mindset, encouraging students to embrace lifelong learning and stay relevant in an ever-evolving job market.
  • Building Empathy: Every entrepreneur needs empathy to understand their audience’s needs, desires, and pain points. This skill is essential for creating products and services that genuinely address customer needs and for building strong relationships with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders. And like every other entrepreneurial skill, this one is important for overall success. 
  • Resourcefulness: Every entrepreneur learns to create value with limited resources. This entrepreneurial skill is especially important in nonprofit work for addressing social issues.
  • Comfort with uncertainty: In a world characterized by rapid change and disruption, the ability to be comfortable with discomfort and to thrive in the face of uncertainty is a critical skill. Entrepreneurial education helps students cultivate this mindset by exposing them to ambiguity and encouraging them to make decisions with incomplete information.

The entrepreneurial mindset is the foundation for success in any industry, including climate change mitigation, hospitality, and even nonprofit social impact work.

Integrating AI and Emerging Technologies

As artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies continue to transform the job market, it is crucial that entrepreneurial education keeps pace with these developments. By incorporating AI and related technologies into the curriculum, educators can help students understand the ethical implications of these tools and learn how to leverage them to create value and drive innovation.

Like everyone in every industry, educators, school administrators, and staff must learn to use AI to augment themselves. Ask yourself, “What can I uniquely do? And what can AI do reasonably well — to help me spend more of my time doing those things?” By using AI as a teaching aid, educators can augment their own capabilities and free up time to focus on the unique aspects of their role, such as providing personalized guidance and fostering critical thinking skills.

As students become more familiar with AI and its applications, they will be better prepared to navigate the AI-driven changes that are reshaping our society and the world of work. I’ve been using AI with students in grades 4-12 and we’ve had engaging, thought-provoking student-led discussions on how to use AI appropriately — while also leaving students with the confidence to use AI to make the world a better place. My students are using AI to envision bold entrepreneurial futures for themselves. By the time they graduate from high school, every student should know how to responsibly use AI as a copilot. Students can also learn how to leverage AI and machine learning (ML) to create innovative products and services, automate processes, and make data-driven decisions.

Ethics and Responsible Entrepreneurship

While entrepreneurship has the potential to drive positive change, students must learn the importance of ethical and responsible business practices. That’s why we emphasize the triple bottom line (or the three Ps of People, Planet, and Profit) with every student. It’s important to teach kids to understand the broader impact of their actions on stakeholders, communities, and the environment.

By teaching students to prioritize ethics and sustainability alongside financial success, we can help ensure that the next generation of entrepreneurs is equipped to build businesses that not only generate profits but also contribute to the greater good. This focus on responsible entrepreneurship will be particularly important as we face pressing global challenges such as climate change and social inequality.

Revolutionizing Education for the Future of Work

The current educational system is not equipped to meet the changing needs of the job market. Traditional education is often focused on rote memorization — and doesn’t encourage students to think critically or creatively. This approach is poorly suited to the future of work, where thinking outside the box and solving complex problems will be critical for success. 

In contrast, entrepreneurial education encourages students to be proactive, to think critically, and to take risks. It also teaches them to embrace failure as a learning opportunity and to be persistent in the face of obstacles. The entrepreneurial mindset is the foundation for success in any industry, including climate change and nonprofit work. 

Integrating Entrepreneurial Education Across Levels

Entrepreneurial education should be integrated into the curriculum at all levels of education, from primary school to higher education. This can be done through the development of dedicated entrepreneurship courses, the creation of innovation and entrepreneurship programs, and the integration of entrepreneurial skills into existing courses.  Imagine a science class where students develop new sustainable products, or a history class exploring entrepreneurship through the lens of historical events.

Shaping the Future

The future belongs to those who can adapt, innovate, and lead. By embracing entrepreneurial education, we equip students with the skills and mindset to not only survive but thrive in the ever-changing future of work. They’ll become the problem-solvers, innovators, and leaders driving economic growth and positive change in the world.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Yolanda is also a Founding Board Member of the Hawai’i Center for AI (HCAI), a non-profit organization. HCAI envisions a future in which all of Hawaiʻi’s residents have access to AI technology that effectively and safely serves their individual and collective well-being. Hawai’i Center for AI promotes the beneficial use of AI to empower individuals, communities, and industries throughout Hawai’i. We are committed to understanding the ways AI will help grow the state’s economy, help our institutions evolve, and transform our society. Through collaboration, education, and service, we drive research, innovation, and community partnerships to build a sustainable, prosperous, and policy-driven future for Hawai’i.

The Future Of Work Is More Than Remote Work

An Entrepreneurial Workforce

What is the future of work? For many, this idea has become focused solely on shifting to a digital workplace. Covid-19 has caused us all to rethink how and where we work, accelerating the shift to the remote office, but the future of work is so much more than going remote. In my view, the future of work is the liquid workforce where workers are self-employed entrepreneurs.

Companies are increasingly relying on a blended workforce, engaging a mix of full-time and on-demand talent (or liquid workers). This enables companies to smartly and cost-effectively employ the best available talent to meet their skill and work needs at any given time. Liquid talent is being engaged at all levels, even as on-demand consultants and advisors for corporate boards. As the liquid workforce becomes a critical strategic asset for companies, HR leaders are evolving their roles and responsibilities to take charge of leading a blended workforce.

For liquid workers, and particularly knowledge workers, the future of work offers a return to our entrepreneurial roots. Liquid workers can achieve “work-life fit” and gain greater independence and control of their work.

Opportunities For Companies

This shift to the future of work is resulting in challenges and opportunities for companies and for liquid workers.

Shifting to a blended workforce requires companies to rethink their processes and systems. Liquid workers are not employees and need different workflows — for example, think about onboarding. The compliance steps and documents required are distinct for 1099 versus W-2 workers. How you welcome and bring on the liquid talent also needs to be different. Your onboarding needs to enable the flex worker to hit the ground running from the moment they start.

Working with liquid talent is also inherently very fluid, with projects simultaneously starting and ending across a company. It’s essential to have a robust contracting process that you can simply and easily replicate with every new liquid worker. Likewise, you need to have the right financial processes and systems in place to ensure full visibility of liquid worker costs, invoice management and payment. Today, many companies still manage their freelancers and independent consultants using spreadsheets.

Opportunities For Liquid Workers

To fully take advantage of the future of work and maximize talent pools through a blended workforce, we need engaging liquid workers to become as easy and as operationally standardized as it is with full-time employees. It needs to be easy and efficient to source, contract and manage liquid talent.

For individuals, although the idea of being your own boss and having your own company can be exciting, it’s also daunting. Just as with a startup, being a solopreneur can be an uncertain endeavor. It can also be confusing to figure out everything that needs to be done administratively as a self-corporation, particularly in areas such as insurance, disability and professional development that might have been taken for granted when working in a traditional corporate environment. Individuals new to being liquid workers can also find it to be isolating.

Solving The Future Of Work

To shift from the traditional to the future of work, individuals need help to make running their businesses easy and time-efficient. They need support in managing their companies, addressing benefits (such as insurance, access to credit and disability), meeting legal requirements and building human connections (training, coaching, etc.).

The shift of the professional workforce will continue, and the pace is likely to increase. The focus on the rights of liquid workers, such as with California’s AB5 law, is not abating. Managers will need to adapt their people leadership skills to lead, motivate and integrate a blended workforce successfully. But to fully achieve the future of work and realize the true potential of the liquid workforce, we need solutions that will address the barriers that still exist.

Many solutions are under development, but there’s still so much opportunity left to build the capabilities required for the future of work, which include:

  • Helping companies and liquid workers find each other and connect.
  • Making it easy and straightforward for contracts to be executed.
  • Enabling companies and liquid workers to work with each other effectively and efficiently.
  • Simplifying the process of establishing and managing liquid workers’ businesses.
  • Offering options for liquid workers that meet needs for traditional benefits, such as insurance and 401(k)s, professional development and community connections.

Companies and individuals are continuing to shape the evolution toward a more entrepreneurial and independent workforce. Remote work is just one aspect of the future of work. Consider how you can go beyond the integration of remote work and include the future of work in your human resources strategy.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

The Future Of Work Is The Liquid Workforce

The future of work — or, as some call it, work of the future — has been a hot topic for many years. Most people think of the future of work as it relates to a specific technology or social issue. For example, the wide range of ideas I’ve heard discussed around the future of work include:

  • Jobs at risk of being automated due to advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
  • The end of physical office space as companies transition to fully remote operations.
  • A digital workplace that includes virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR).
  • Diversity and inclusion.
  • Attracting and retaining top employees in an increasingly competitive talent market.
  • Soft skills and emotional intelligence.
  • Retraining and reskilling workers for the future.
  • Finding work-life balance or work-life fit.
  • The rise of multivendor software as a service (SaaS) for personal and team productivity applications.
  • Good jobs that pay a living wage, regardless of education or sector.
  • The gig economy.
  • Government-enacted policies and regulations, like California AB5, designed to protect and effectively tax freelance workers.

So which of these many options is truly the future of work?

I believe it’s a combination of all of the above, and it can be summarized by saying that the future of work is the liquid workforce.

Working For Yourself: The American Dream

Working for yourself used to be the American Dream. We were a nation of farmers, creators, builders and individuals with a shared identity as aspiring achievers taking charge of our futures (and destinies). According to historian Steve Gillon, before 1860, most Americans lived in rural areas, and upward of 80% of the workforce was self-employed. By the late 1970s, the self-employment rate dropped to an estimated 7%. Today, that percentage has risen and continues to rise faster than the overall labor growth rate — 10% of workers are classified as self-employed, and 20% to 30% of people are engaged in some kind of independent work.

Corporations And The 9-to-5 During The Industrial Era

As America transformed from a nation of rural farmers to one of industry, so did the way we work. America became a nation of large hierarchical corporations, and our industrial economy required reliable, cookie-cutter workers. The 9-to-5 traditional workforce is a relic of this era: Early 20th century factories introduced the five-day workweek (down from six days to improve productivity).

Future Of Work In The Digital Age

In today’s digital age as AI and machine learning begin to automate jobs and as VR and AR change our workplace and training abilities, the structure of work and the skills needed to succeed have changed. Soft skills like emotional intelligence are now paramount to success, requiring changes to our education system. People are increasingly looking for work-life fit and choosing to leave traditional jobs and instead engage in independent, and often remote, work.

From the corporation side, the talent market is becoming increasingly competitive, requiring companies to engage the liquid workforce as part of their talent strategy. Remote work is becoming commonplace for both liquid workers and traditional workers. Governments are looking to regulate and capture taxes as the workforce evolves. And as the business case for diversity and inclusion has been made clear — that diversity in thought correlates directly to increased economic output — corporations need to add more diversity to their workforce. Corporations are increasingly turning to on-demand workers, consultants and advisors as part of their diversity and inclusion strategy.

The Liquid Workforce

What brings this all together is the idea that the future of work is the liquid workforce — a diverse, robust economy where more and more workers go back to being self-employed, where we go back to our roots as an entrepreneurial nation.

Where the corporation was once the structure driving our economy, the future is an agile, technology-enabled, human-optimized and inclusive system. The individuals who comprise the liquid workforce will work anywhere, anytime on projects with varying durations. This idea encompasses the changing policies, mindsets and strategies of the future of work, and more importantly, the opportunities that follow.

Opportunities Ahead In The Future of Work

Integrating the liquid workforce will bring fresh and diverse perspectives to companies and add new energy and ideas. Businesses will be nimbler and able to quickly respond to changing customer expectations or shifting markets. Developing an adaptive workplace and systems will enable companies to support their flexible blended workforce in terms of both productivity and experience.

The future of work is the liquid workforce, and it is already here. Companies that expect to compete in today’s fast-paced digital landscape must activate the liquid workforce, often by engaging on-demand advisors and consultants along with other freelance workers. Are you ready to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead in the future of work?

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Musings on Entrepreneurship and Education: Reflections Inspired by MIT’s new College of Computing

Last week, MIT celebrated the new College of Computing with a multi-day conference filled with talks by luminaries like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Joi Ito, Henry Kissinger, Megan Smith, Thomas Friedman, and many more. When Eric Schmidt (Technical Advisor to Alphabet and former Executive Chairman of Google) opened the panel for Entrepreneurship and AI, I was struck by his comments that the world needs more entrepreneurs; that the world needs more of us to become entrepreneurs to solve the problems of our times. I’d read about Schmidt’s previous calls for more entrepreneurs in 2016, but hearing him reiterate the point felt like a call to action.

MIT was founded in April 1861, two days before the start of the civil war. It was founded before we knew of the existence of DNA or atoms, before cars, before telephones, before the internet. And yet it has endured and innovated to stay at the forefront of technology, while becoming a model for college level entrepreneurship education.

Today, it’s become commonplace for universities to nurture entrepreneurs and to teach entrepreneurial skills. But few high schools, middle schools, or elementary schools incorporate entrepreneurship into their curriculum. MIT has done its part to inspire high school student entrepreneurs with the spinoff of LaunchX (originally started as a program of MIT called MIT Launch) and by the relatively new creation of a world education lab dedicated in part to reinventing preK-12 education. And there are many other programs here and there for high school student entrepreneurs.

But I believe that we need to do more to empower our children (including younger children) to become the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. To help them become change-makers who will make “a better world” (to borrow the name of MIT’s $6 billion campaign). Moreover, I am confident that an entrepreneurial education gives students the skills to succeed in any career or workplace.

What do I mean by an entrepreneurial education?

First, there’s the obvious — supporting students of all ages to turn their ideas into companies. But to me, it’s more than that. It’s giving students low stakes opportunities to fail. It’s showing students how to find joy in challenging themselves and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s helping students apply their learnings to real world problems. It’s nurturing their natural creativity, curiosity, and ability to find patterns and make connections. It’s providing opportunities to pursue interests and passions, and to collaborate and work in teams. It’s grounding education in ethics, empathy, and compassion so that they can prevent biases. And it’s teaching skills that are crucial to success in entrepreneurship, skills that are transferable to other careers and to life in general.

These skills are innumerable. But as a start, they include empathy, persistence, grit, confidence, self-awareness, communication, collaboration, curiosity, prioritization, flexibility in thinking, integrity, computational thinking, creative thinking, resourcefulness, optimism, conflict resolution, story telling, and so much more. It may sound old-fashioned, but I believe character education and ethics are also central to nurturing tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. Social emotional and ethical learning (SEEL) is not an over-hyped buzzword; this kind of education is critical for success in today’s hyper-connected world. As every job function becomes augmented with automated computing, it’s “soft skills” that will give our kids an edge. Moreover, we’ve all read about the misdeeds of Facebook and other Silicon Valley start-ups, and it seems clear to me that empathy and ethics could have prevented some problems.

As the world becomes more complex and interconnected, so does the work people do. As machine learning and artificial intelligence begin to do more of our work, it will become more important for people to do work that machines find it harder to do. An entrepreneurial mindset will help our students to succeed in work of the future. And it is imperative that tomorrow’s entrepreneurs are fundamentally ethical and trained to recognize and overcome biases.

MIT’s celebration left me feeling hopeful and inspired.

Hopeful that we can give tomorrow’s innovators, thinkers, doers, and leaders the ethically-grounded education that will allow them to use machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, and other tools that have yet to be developed for the good of the world.

And inspired to help make that future a reality.

What are your thoughts on entrepreneurship and education, and the future of education?

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

15 business practices to adopt as you start your small business

I’ve started and operated several companies, all of which used independent contractors (and some of which also used traditional employees). Some key business tactics I believe in include: relying on empirical data to make decisions (whether or not that means using rigorous programming based data analysis techniques); preferring slow incremental growth via low risk bets (versus making high risk decisions that could lead to disaster); keeping cash reserves to protect against disaster; and that trust is critical to successful relationships with colleagues, workers, and clients.

Those practices can be implemented in any company, whether you use independent contractors or traditional employees. But over the years, I’ve compiled a list of operating practices I would adopt if I started a “normal” business with “normal” employees. If you are starting a business with employees, maybe you’ll find you, too, want to adopt some of these practices.

Here’s an overview of 15 business practices to adopt as you start your small business. I could probably write a full post about each of these practices (and for some of these, I already have), so I’ve tried (with limited success ) to keep each section brief:

Whenever possible, reduce the number of choices to customers.

Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More. We’ve all been conditioned to believe that the more options the better. This book’s counter-intuitive premise is that adding options reduces the likelihood that people will select any, whether the decision in question is trivial (which gourmet jam to purchase) or very significant (which health insurance plan to sign-up for). And when most people stop to think about it, they can think of personal examples when more options led to indecision. For me, this often happens at coffee shops — when I see too many different breakfast sandwiches and scones to choose from, I order only coffee. In contrast, I love shopping at Costco and only having a few brands of yogurt to choose from!

Don’t be afraid to turn down customers or clients, or to refer them to your competitors.

It is scary to turn away business. But there are two theories behind my tip. The first is opportunity cost — if you accept “bad” business, you may be losing some “good” business because your time and resources will be tied up with the “bad” client / customer. Bad can be defined in any way you choose — customers who try to negotiate price, customers who threaten to take their business elsewhere, customers who need lots of extra time and attention, etc. The second theory behind this idea is that if you aren’t the best fit for the client (whether that’s because of price, or skills, or other reasons), then referring them to someone who does fit their stated needs helps you to build trust. And when they trust you, they’ll be more likely to recommend you to people who are a good fit for your company. As an added bonus, sometimes, when the issue is price, the clients may learn that you get what you pay for and end up coming back to you. Take a look at The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford and Trust Based Selling: Using Customer Focus and Collaboration to Build Long-Term Relationships by Charles Green to learn more about these ideas.

Create ‘Good jobs.’

The Good Jobs Strategy

MIT professor Zeynop Ton, in her book The Good Jobs Strategy, defines good jobs as fulfilling jobs that pay well. Companies like Southwest Airlines, Trader Joes, Costco, UPS, In-N-Out Burger, use human-centered operational excellence to offer low prices to customers while ensuring good jobs for their employees and exceptional returns for their investors. Ok, that’s a lot of buzzwords. Put another way, make four operational choices — Offer Less, Standardize and Empower, Cross-Train, and Operate with Slack — and you will find that (contrary to popular belief) you can run a successful business and pay your employees a living wage or more. Read this post I wrote in 2016 to learn more.

Subsidize family care.

When people know that their loved ones (young children, elderly parents, and other dependent family members) are being cared for, they can focus on their work at work. I believe in universal high-quality childcare for all, but that’s a post for another time.

Paid family leave.

This is corollary to subsidizing family care and I could write an entire post about the importance of paid family leave. The short version is simply that allowing people to take care of their loved ones: 1) allows them to be more focused at work; and 2) secures loyalty from your employees.

Hire for soft skills.

I’ve always done this when hiring independent contractors, and it carries over to employees as well. It’s better to hire someone eager to learn who works well with people, than someone who has already perfected the skills but lacks emotional intelligence or communication skills. Mastery of content is important, but that loses value if you can’t communicate your thoughts or collaborate with others. Read more about my thoughts on this topic here.

Invest in your people.

Turnover is costly. Provided you’ve invested in creating a relationship of trust with your employees, it is cheaper to train and develop your existing employees, than it is to find, recruit, and onboard new ones. Cultivate your employees.

Encourage vacations.

When people go on vacation, and truly step away from the office, they come back to work happier, more creative, and more productive. More vacation days has been shown to decrease the number of sick days taken off! And when you, or other executives go on vacation, ignore emails unless it’s truly an emergency that only you can fix. Doing so shows your people that you trust them (if you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in trust) and gives people the chance to develop new skills and talents in your absence. And it helps reinforce the company culture that vacations are encouraged.

Additional paid leave between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

Obviously this isn’t possible for all companies (retail shops, for example), but if at all possible I’d reduce operations during this period. Forcing people to take time off means your employees come back to work rejuvenated. For employees with young children, they often have to take time off anyway and this can be a huge stress reliever. Plus, no one really wants to work during this time anyway (employees and clients) and you save your employees from fighting over who gets to take leave during this time. Lastly, think of it as part of your benefits package, that allows you to hire and retain the best employees. Not convinced, take a look at this post from Inc. (not written by me).

30 hour weeks at full time pay.

The eight-hour workday is a relic of the industrial era; Henry Ford pioneered the five day work week (down from six days), and that’s how we ended up with the 40-hour work week. Most of us can agree that we’ve moved beyond industrialism. Isn’t it time we move on from business practices created for that era? I believe that if you trust people to squeeze all their productivity into 30 hours, instead of 40+, and you’ll have more engaged, happier employees. That sounds too drastic for you? Here are some alternatives: 35-hour work week; a four-day, 10-hours per day schedule; create core hours (say 9:30am to 1:30pm) where employees are required to be working (then trust that they will work from home in the mornings or evenings to work the required number of hours).

Encourage people to be their full selves at work.

Need to take long lunch to recharge? Leaving early to coach your daughter’s baseball team? Coming in late after your son’s school play? Taking your mom to her doctors appointment mid-morning? People are more productive (and loyal) when they don’t need to hide a part of themselves during work hours.

Trust your people with the big picture.

Share your vision, make it a shared vision, and employees will dedicate themselves to your vision. Work becomes more meaningful. Feeling inspired, people are more likely to go above and beyond to help each other and your customers. And when you share the big picture, every employee feels empowered to contribute ideas. Innovation happens more quickly.

Don’t grow for the sake of growth.

Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham is one of my favorite books. It highlights businesses that chose to stay small and true to themselves, instead of growing for the sake of growth. Another book in this vein is Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. Built to Last has a slightly different message, but the common ground between it and Small Giants is the idea of building a meaningful, enduring business.

Diversity and inclusion strategy.

D&I is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. The business case for a D&I strategy is clear — increasing diversity leads to tangible economic gains. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2018 study is just one of many studies that have made a clear business case for diversity. There are many resources out there for companies who choose to tackle this issue (and I hope that most will), so I won’t write too much about this here. What I will say though, is that we should (perhaps unintuitively) focus on inclusion (how people are treated) before diversity (the demographics / numbers). Start with inclusion and company culture — what things are said and unsaid, who speaks at meetings, who gets chosen for presentations and projects, etc — and work on overcoming biases. Then, work on diversity.

Commit to pay transparency.

Employees are happier and more motivated when salaries are transparent. They work harder, they’re more productive, and they’re better at collaborating with colleagues. All this leads to greater profit for the employer. But researchers say transparency is also important because keeping salaries secret reinforces discrimination. So back to D&I — committing to pay transparency will help close the pay gap, and increase diversity, all while helping your bottom line.

Whew, you made it through all 15 business practices! 
These practices may seem extravagant, but they’re practices that have worked for successful companies. They might not all be appropriate for yours. But I believe in treating employees with decency and respect, and giving them meaningful work while allowing them to also have lives outside of work. And I believe that doing so will ultimately improve your financial performance.

What are your best practices for operating businesses? Please share them!

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Why I gave up my consulting business

Okay, I didn’t exactly give up my consulting business. I’m still doing some work through my company Lau Labs for friends and friends of friends. But I essentially shelved it to start FlexTeam. Here’s why.

My Solo Consulting Business

I started advising and consulting for entrepreneurs and small business owners more than a decade ago. Business plans, websites, basic financial models, marketing, branding, operations strategy, business development … I pretty much did it all for small companies. And I was pretty successful at it.

Then, I Became a Mother

I’ve always been interested in work-life fit. But during my first pregnancy in 2010, I became increasingly interested in “solving” the “problem” of ambitious, educated, talented women and men “opting out” of the traditional workforce for to spend time with their kids or other personal reasons. I started thinking about how I ought to start a company to get projects for all these smart moms.

Once my daughter was born, I kept working on consulting via Lau Labs but also considered myself a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). And as I became friends with more SAHMs, I started to feel the urgency of creating a company to get projects for all my smart SAHM friends. Women who had once had successful careers, who had begun to discount their self worth after quitting their jobs. Women who transitioned to part-time work, only to quit after finding they were doing full-time work at part-time pay. Women who were throwing themselves passionately into motherhood, parent teacher associations, and fundraising. Highly-educated, highly-experienced women wondering if they’d ever be employable after being at home with their kids.

A Difficult Pregnancy

Long story, the pregnancy with my son was not easy: very frequent doctors’ appointments. And so, while I still thought about creating this mom consulting company, I put working on it on hold for awhile. It didn’t stop me from brainstorming. Talking with other moms, I began to envision providing a whole suite of services to mothers who left the traditional workforce. Services like project-based consulting work, resume services, workshops to help women transition back to work, confidence building exercises, training sessions, networking events with a community of like-minded women, and more. And once my son was born, I began more actively seeking out partners for this endeavor and working on a business plan.

Starting FlexTeam

All this time, I continued to do consulting work via Lau Labs. Working from home and out of coffee shops (and hotel lobbies) and doing pretty well, if I do say so myself. Especially considering the number of actual working weeks I was putting in — which I coordinated around school breaks, school performances, and other personal obligations.

But when the opportunity to start FlexTeam with two other MIT alums (including a former roommate) came up, I put Lau Labs aside. And instead of working just when I wanted to, I began working 25 to 60+ hours a week (still from home or coffee shops or hotel lobbies) to make my mom consulting firm a reality. Why? Because I had seen too many smart moms struggling with motherhood and their career. Women shouldn’t have to choose. Men shouldn’t have to choose either.

So why did I put my consulting business aside to start FlexTeam? Because, as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson said in Rework, “What you do is your legacy.”

The work we are doing with FlexTeam is important. I’ve seen women regain their confidence after working on a project or two with us. I’ve seen women use FlexTeam’s projects as one of many sources of work, allowing them to work full-time from home. I’ve seen women go through the onboarding process and learn something insightful about themselves and what they want.

Today, FlexTeam’s highly experienced, networked, and intelligent consultants have over 8,000 hours of time each week to spend working together to solve our client’s business challenges. We are generating a better income for women; a tight knit professional community that is fueling our growth of projects; a growing body of knowledge and technology that helps us scale the value of our time; and a long waiting list of others that want to join.

If you are as inspired as we are, come grow your business with us.

And more importantly, are you doing something to make the world a better place? Are you doing something that matters? What could you be doing to make a better world?

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Books to Live By

Confession: I spent New Year’s Day 2019 reading one entire book and starting a second (John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity and Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play, both published by the MIT Press, in case you were curious.).

I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm. Ok, more than a bit. I was the strange girl who spent hours upon hours in libraries and bookstores, who had shelves upon shelves of books. I’d read on the subway, waiting for coffee, and sometimes even while walking. It’s no wonder I never excelled at sports.

As I child, I loved reading adaptations of classic novels — at that age my most prized possession was a pocket-sized electronic dictionary. In my teens, I continued loving fiction, especially historical fiction. In my twenties and thirties, I’ve come to enjoy non-fiction, particularly biographies, business books, and books on science (think Oliver Sacks or Mary Roach) and positive psychology (science of happiness).

I have a ton of favorites, so many (about 50 or so) that I usually break them down by category. Of those, there are a handful that I live my life by (and by handful, I mean that only in comparison to the 600+ books I own). These are books that I turn to over and over again for guidance and advice; books I frequently recommend.

Books that guide my life, personal and professional:

Books that have shaped my vision for building companies:

What books have shaped your views and guide your life? I’m always eager to discover new books.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Reflecting on my First Seven Jobs

During college and in high school, I was almost always employed part-time. I rarely worked during the summer, and I liked the challenge of juggling coursework with employment. So it’s no surprise that I was only 19 years old by the time I had worked my #FirstSevenJobs.

Here they are:

  1. English as a second language tutor. 📝 Sometimes, I forget that I started my first venture in middle school. On an external hard drive of archived data, I still have the worksheets I made for my students.
  2. Babysitter. 😊 What teenage girl didn’t babysit? I never babysat actual babies, just children younger than me. I’ve always loved children and I also volunteered in childcare centers and preschools.
  3. Punahou School math tutor. 🔢 Yup, I’m a true nerd. For as long as I can remember, math has been easy for me. My parents signed me up for Kumon in elementary school and I started learning calculus in middle school. I was that annoying kid turning in math tests 15 minutes into the 50-minute period. Being in the honors math track in high school, I had the privilege of spending my free periods sitting in the math tutoring center waiting to help the students enrolled in less advanced math classes.
  4. Punahou School Physics Honors teaching assistant. ⚛ I graded assignments and tutored students. I’m sure I had other responsibilities, but I don’t remember what they were anymore.
  5. SAT-prep tutor. 📓 Yes, I’m proud to admit that I’m a nerd. Back when the SAT had only two sections and a combined score of 1600, I got a near perfect score of 790 on the verbal section and 800 on the math section (see #3 on being a math nerd). Anyway, doing well on standardized tests is a sure-fire way to get tutoring clients. This was my second freelancing gig, not including babysitting.
  6. Retail sales associate at Quiksilver, Newbury Street, Boston. ☀️🏄🏽  I’m from Honolulu. Before attending college in Cambridge, I had never before been to the East Coast. And I had not seen snow fall. So on a cold winter day, when I walked down to Newbury Street from the Boston brownstone I lived in, I was over the moon to find a newly opened surf shop that reminded me of warm days on the beach. In a way, even in this job I was freelancing. I saw the store struggling to penetrate the market, so I took it upon myself to start marketing the store to other homesick students from Hawaii. It would have been a lot easier if Facebook had existed then.
  7. MIT Introductory Biology tutor. I don’t recall how I got this job. 🔬 It must have had something to do with having declared a double-major in Biology and Chemical Engineering. The work was easy, helping students with homework assignments and grading homework assignments (or, problem sets, as we they were called at MIT).

And there it is.

Number 8 was being the MIT Undergraduate Association Office Manager, and number 9 was supporting women’s recruitment at MIT Admissions. And my first “real” job at the MIT Technology Licensing Office, was number 10.

This trip down memory lane has reminded me that I once wanted to be a teacher. I loved children and thought I wanted to be a preschool teacher. Given my math and science aptitude, I later thought it was my duty to become a high school teacher focusing on Advanced Placement courses. And I’ve long wanted to participate in yoga teacher training to get certified to teach yoga, which I’ve been practicing since 1996. But the memory of a Punahou teacher telling my parents that I was too smart to be a teacher is what has always held me back from pursuing that career path.

I’m reminded now that I’ve always been passionate about education, lifelong learning, and helping others. It’s why I volunteered in a childcare center for toddlers from low-income families, and volunteered in a homeless shelter for women and children, and was once a volunteer tutor for immigrants studying to pass the US Citizenship Exam. And it’s the reason I have been an Alumni Mentor for MIT’s 12.000 Solving Complex Problems for the last decade.

And I see that I’ve always been a freelancer and entrepreneur, creating my own career, searching for work-life fit, seeking new challenges and skills, and looking towards the future of work. So it’s no wonder that my path has led me to entrepreneurship and small business consulting. My specialty is creating and improving processes to maximize efficiency, reduce costs, and increase customers and revenue. But my job is really teaching and helping small business owners so they can grow their business. ​

What were your first seven jobs, and how have they shaped your career? Let me know in the comments or contact me personally!

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.