Findings from the Creating Useful People podcast.
The Clever Tykes podcast, Creating Useful People, interviews super successful business people and creatives about the childhood influences that shaped their lives and careers. Having interviewed ten people so far, we’ve started to identify trends between them; trends that appear to link successful people together.
The common traits between successful people’s upbringing
The podcasts tend to focus on the early childhood – from earliest memories through to primary school and secondary school. Sometimes we venture into early adulthood, but most of these traits are from our guests’ formative years.
1. Change or disruption
The first common trait you’ll recognise is change and disruption faced at an early age whether it was family issues or changes of school.
Most notably, Paul Faulkner changed schools seven times by the age of 13, always finding a way to fit in to his new school through immersing himself in sport. We learned that Emma Jones, Phill Jupitus and Oona Collins grew up in single parent homes from an early age and Craig Donaldson clearly remembers the miners’ strike of 84-85.
Dragons’ Den superstar Jordan Daykin’s parents split when he was young, with his father moving abroad for work before he left school at 13 years old.
I think change and disruption tend to be seen as unsettling for kids. Moving schools is always bigged up in films because it involves leaving friends, entering a new and unknown environment and being ‘the new kid’.
However, what I see is that the need to overcome change and adapt to new circumstances has given people an advantage in their career or businesses. They learn not to see change as a big deal. They learn that they can overcome it. They learn to not fear the unknown.
2. Big wide world
Many of the guests on the show clearly understood the big wide world from an early age in that they had some international understanding and experience.
Jordan Daykin’s father moved to Africa whilst Oona Collin’s older brothers travelled the world, often sending guests back to their humble home! Oona Collins herself was encouraged to see the world, and Phill Jupitus is encouraging his daughters to do the same.
Exposure to the world or some international experience wasn’t something I necessarily expected would be a theme in the podcast interviews. What I gather from the guests is that, from an early age, they had a better sense of the world – that there was more to life than their immediate surroundings. It opened their eyes to possibilities and they started to imagine what they could achieve.
I think being more worldly also helps to give you perspective.
3. Experience of work
The majority of interviewees had first-hand experience of business or the world of work from a young age.
Emma Jones and Craig Donaldson worked directly for their parents’ businesses, both in hospitality, whilst Jordan Daykin, Mike Bandar and Deepak Tailor had all started businesses, themselves, by the age of 16. Graham Allcott was washing cars for his neighbours whilst Paul Faulkner’s childhood was very influenced by his dad’s work in local news. Jessica Wheeler and her sister sold tickets for their dance performances to their parents’ friends!
Speaking to our interviewees, it’s clear how some exposure to the world of work early on has benefits. There seems to be a lot of lessons from either learning from your parents’ work or business or actually setting up a business of your own.
That sense of commercial awareness gleaned from discussions round the dinner table or actually buying and selling seems invaluable. The experience of self-employment and running a business makes that path seem more normal as someone grows up.
4. Inquisitive and a desire to learn
Intrigue, along with a desire to question the status quo and learn about the way things work was present in a number of our guests. Looking beneath the surface and asking ‘why’ seems to be a useful trait.
Mike Bandar told us about taking his favourite toys apart just to see how they worked, even if it meant breaking them! He was also unashamed of always asking ‘why’, to the annoyance of grown ups around him! Deepak Tailor started experimenting with eBay, selling things from around the house, and Jordan Daykin invented what is now a £20million business by inventing a device that fixed a problem he faced as a teenager! Emma Jones explained that her impressive memory as an adult is down to really listening and understanding people, being fascinated by them and developing a deep understanding.
I think that most children are inquisitive and generally interested in new things. What I learned is that for some of our guests, this inquisitive nature was almost insatiable and it continued into their adult life. No one seems content to accept the way things are and I think that is crucial to each of their success. All the guests are big on learning even as adults.
Many of the guests were clearly capable of standing on their own two feet and figuring things out for themselves.
Oona Collins and her siblings very much raised each other as a family. She recalls her mum asking “Well, what are you going to do?” whenever she faced an obstacle. Deepak Tailor and Jordan Daykin had already begun businesses as teenagers and Phill Jupitus was left to cure his boredom all by himself.
Independence is something I can really relate to. I only realised how independent I was as a child, now – it’s just the norm when you’re actually that age. There are some examples from the podcast that demonstrate just how independent some of these people were as, sometimes, very young children. The key with most of the guests was that their parents or teachers trusted them to figure something out for themselves, and they very often did!
6. Role models
Of all the common themes we could have imagined, this is the one we suspected would be most evident. Role models don’t necessarily have to be in business – they could be anyone inspiring or who gave someone their entrepreneurial traits.
In fact, eight of the 10 guests all had a clearly defined role model that shaped their choices. For Craig Donaldson, Emma Jones, Oona Collins and Paul Faulkner, those role models were both or one of their parents. Jordan Daykin learned from his father’s exploits but his grandad had a very direct impact on the success of Gripit, his business.
I knew that there would be strong role models amongst the guests; the people that inspired them to be the people they are today. There are strong links between parental role models and someone’s future successes but we learned how different these role models can be.
Some of the role models are directly involved in business like Craig Donaldson and Emma Jones’, so there’s a big cross-over with the ‘experience of work’ trait. Some of our guests had a range of role models; parents, teachers or those in industry.
There are undoubtedly similarities between at least two or three of the interviewees so we’ve focused on the ones that were shared between four. I think it’s clear why all of the traits above would lend themselves well to someone’s success later in life.
We marked which of the above traits each guest directly explained in the podcast. Of course, some of the traits are subjective and just because a guest didn’t mention a particular trait, doesn’t mean they didn’t have it! We also didn’t think about the traits before we conducted the interviews so the questions weren’t designed to lead people into certain answers. It was only after four or five did we realise there were some strong themes showing up!
Interestingly, none of the guests so far have had all six traits, however, three have five of the six by our scoring system. The closest person to displaying all six very strongly is Jordan Daykin.
None of the ten guests had none or just one of the traits so it would indicate that at least two are needed. Four guests had either two or three of the above traits and three had four. The average number of these core traits that the first ten guests had is 3.7.