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What my 1-year-old son taught me about business — and life

Morgan Housel
Morgan Housel

This post originally appeared on The Collaborative Fund.

The day after he was born, I wrote my son a list of money advice.

But parenting is humbling.

A year and change later, I realize he’s taught me a lot about business and life.

One year olds are fascinating people, with budding minds free from the social pressures and biases that cause adults to think in strange, unproductive ways.

A few things he’s taught me:

Communicate clearly. My son doesn’t talk, but he communicates more effectively than many executives I’ve encountered. One year olds do not beat around the bush. When they want something, they tell you – loudly and immediately. If they’re unhappy, they let you know. When they’re done with something, they drop it and walk away. Too many adult conversations drag out over weeks or months before one person says, “I wish you had just told me how you felt from the beginning.” Babies have no tolerance for that stuff, and their ability to get to the point saves countless hours of back and forth.

Low expectations increase your happiness. Happiness doesn’t scale perfectly with wealth because people’s expectations rise with their income. Something similar happens with age. Our ability to be amazed by simple things peaks at like age seven. A one year old hasn’t seen much of the world, so their expectations are low, which means they spend a lot of their day having their minds blown in a state of pure bliss. Turning on the ceiling fan brings my son a level of happiness that the average adult experiences once a year, maybe. How can you not envy that? Everything is amazing when you expect nothing.

Put it behind you and move on. Anything can upset a one year old. But they recover and move on astonishingly fast. The time between my son’s world coming to an end and the greatest moment of his life can be measured in seconds. Adults dwell on situations for years, often for no other reason than their own insecurities needing something to do. A one year old holds no grudges. They forgive and forget. The past is behind us; what matters is what’s ahead of us. Why can’t adults do this?

Be curious of everything. Babies are learning machines. The cognitive progress they can make in a week is almost unbelievable. I know there’s a biological reason for this that I don’t understand, but it’s clearly helped by their ability to be curious about everything. What does this do? What happens if I open this? Where does this door lead? What does that leaf feel like? A one year old spends most of their day trying something they’ve never done before. Their life is a giant experiment. Adults don’t do this, because they have a preconceived idea of how things might turn out, so they tend to stick to what they know. Babies aren’t anchored to past experiences, so they’re willing to try any combination of new ideas they can think of – the result being a staggeringly fast mode of learning and discovery.

Pretend no one’s watching. Babies can spend all day experimenting and trying something new because they are impervious to embarrassment. They don’t care if they look ridiculous. They don’t mind if you’re judging them. They are not afraid of failure. A thousand people could witness my son fall on his face without any pants on and he wouldn’t flinch. It’s hard to see this as anything but an advantage. You can’t fear looking stupid if you want to be a learning machine. Babies get this. I wish we adults could too.

More from Morgan Housel:

My case for saving money — even if you don’t have a reason to save

There are lots of ways to get rich — but only one way to stay that way

A money expert’s financial advice for his new son