‘the economic return of social skills’

by LauraFromBaltimore

This article has Totebag written all over it — education, STEM, social skills, etc. Discuss!

Why What You Learned in Preschool Is Crucial at Work


131 thoughts on “‘the economic return of social skills’

  1. My experience is that you have enough of the skills the job is based on (math, science, writing, etc.) to do it competently, but you don’t move up without the social skills. In my job, my analytical skills are valued, but it is the problem-solving and being able to work with others inside and outside the organization that has more value.

  2. My Dad and I were talking about the accuracy with which he could predict which kids would do well (steady jobs and/or stable families) vs. not well (prison for a few, multiple interactions with the law, no steady job, unstable families) by kindergarten. The kid down the block was featured in the police blotter for child molestation for the nth time and we both saw that one coming.

    Work is completely different from kindergarten because the bar to get hired and not get laid off is high. Everyone at work is competent and sufficiently socially skilled.

  3. I think Rio had mentioned that she was a very good student but that didn’t necessarily translate into fantastic success in the work world because there were social/street smarts required on the job that she didn’t catch on to.
    I think for many Totebag kids this is something to keep in mind. Some fields may require degrees from top colleges but they also require a degree of for want of a better word “sales douchiness”.

  4. I’ve posted many times that the social skills are much more important than the job skills (aside from the jobs that require highly specialized skills and knowledge) if you want to climb the ladder.

  5. My husband went to a very competitive undergraduate place that specialized in STEM – the kind of college that often makes top 10 lists for all the kinds of things we want for our kids (highest salary out of college, high percentage grad degrees, etc.). I was in awe of a lot of his classmates for their raw intellectual ability, and the whole place had a stereotype of very poor social skills. More than a decade out, it has surprised me how many of them are in vanilla jobs that don’t (from my perspective) have a lot of financial or personal rewards. They spend their days typing into tiny windows and make around 100k. There is nothing wrong with that outcome – but it surprises me as I think most of these people are 99+ percentile for ability. (1/3 of the student body is NMSF, which earns them a whole $1k per year in scholarship money).

  6. I think people overestimate the importance of academic ability on income. I know lots of 1% ability people who do postdocs till they’re 40. Ability is a threshold variable- being in the top decile or quintile matters a lot; being in the top one or two percent is less important than other aspects of a person’s character.

    Also, many of Ada’s DH’s college friends haven’t hit their peak earnings year(s). Some of them may have one great stock experience but otherwise make $100k + benefits. And most income data looks at household (not individual) income. $100k for an individual is somewhere in the 90+ percentile. (I’m unable to find good data easily.)

  7. More than a decade out, it has surprised me how many of them are in vanilla jobs that don’t (from my perspective) have a lot of financial or personal rewards.

    On the other hand, you have people who end up doing far better than their modest start would indicate.

  8. DH’s fraternity brothers have done extraordinarily well for themselves and a few of them are in their “second act” careers after having made enough on Wall Street to do so (by their mid 30s). I never thought of any of them has amazingly bright but they are all really fun and congenial. I’m a big believer in social skills catapulting you into success and agree with WCE – if you have top 25% intelligence and good social skills you can go far. I’m not sure schools can teach this though beyond the basics.

  9. ” I’m not sure schools can teach this though beyond the basics.”

    Probably not, but that’s where Rhett’s “who you know” edict comes in. Make friends with the trust fund babies (or equivalent). If they need someone, they will tap their friends first. If you’re a good friend, you may get a good reward.

    Social skills are ridiculously important in my job. I find myself doing my best to increase those rather than my knowledge-based skills. It’s tough especially because I think I’m somewhat socially awkward.

  10. I was joking the other day with DH about how I’m somewhat socially awkward, not quite a Sheldon , but I could use improvement in that area. As an accountant, most of my typical day is working on the computer vs talking with people

  11. ” I’m not sure schools can teach this though beyond the basics.”

    I totally disagree. While sending your kids to WCE’s math camp isn’t going turn them into John von Neumann, it can move the needle. The same is true of social skills. Training and practice might not turn you into Bill Clinton, but you can move the needle a fair amount.

  12. Probably not, but that’s where Rhett’s “who you know” edict comes in.

    But you need to have the social skills to make friends with the right people. That’s the whole point. You can’t build your “who you know” network if you don’t have the social skills.

  13. In prior jobs, I’ve seen really smart people fail because they can’t:
    1. Figure out the unwritten rules of the organization, which generally come from observation.
    2. Figure out what and/or when to and not to share.
    3. Read other’s tone, body language or behavior.
    4. Build working relationships with others in the organization – often they want something done for them, but are unwilling to do something for others.

  14. Rhode- Your comment about trust fund babies is interesting. I’ve seen sorta the reverse, where the trust fund baby type (I don’t know if she actually had a trust fund) was too “Oxbridge” (intellectual, snooty?) for her co-workers and she did not fit in. She went far based on pure technical skill, but plateaued and ultimately left the job to go work in her family’s business.

  15. The same is true of social skills. Training and practice might not turn you into Bill Clinton, but you can move the needle a fair amount.

    I agree. You’re never going to turn a strong introvert into a strong extrovert, but people can learn the basic skills of starting a conversation and making small talk, which can do plenty to allow them to create a good rapport with their coworkers.

  16. I think part of “knowing the right people” is growing up in the right neighborhoods, which many Totebaggers do. I think that math camp improved my social skills quite a bit- I tried to interact with people and help my team win. I remember being in teams of 3 and knowing that the other two, younger boys were better mathematicians than I was. I arranged us so I got the easiest problem and, based on what they had studied, arranged them to get problems they could likely solve. I explained my strategy and they were amenable.

    I never would have tried this in public school- I would have just let all the other people chat and solved all the (much easier) math problems myself.

  17. Austin,

    I’ve also seen people who can’t admit they are wrong and insist on their way long after it has become obvious isn’t not the right thing to do.

    I reminds me of a story about the Apollo Program and Werner von Braun. He was a big proponent of a single stage rocket and they had been working on that solution. But, one engineer kept running the numbers and it became obvious that it wasn’t going to work. So, he gave a presentation and von Braun said, in essence, “You’re right! Multi stage it is.”

    It’s surprising how many people would rather a project fail and get fired than admit they were wrong.

  18. Training and practice might not turn you into Bill Clinton, but you can move the needle a fair amount.

    I always think of the former President when I hear “social skills”. There was a feeling that you could tell him about your bad job, pain in your back, iPhone woes, slimy car dealerships and he would understand.

  19. DD – Yes and No. My experience is that their supervisors did not take the time or were not willing to put out the effort to be specific about what was lacking, they just lumped it together giving the person nothing to “work” on. No one seemed to have all those gaps, but one or two that held them back.

    Rhett – Yes, yes, yes.

  20. So for those of us technical types who don’t have the best social skills, how do we teach our kids? Teaching my son what is appropriate in different basic settings is very trying (for both of us), I can’t imagine him picking up nuances in more complicated social settings.

  21. I can see a social skills class in college more than high school. I feel like in high school it wouldn’t be taken seriously.

  22. I think I mentioned that for my kids at the elementary level a lot of this was lumped under “guidance”. Older kid is still receiving “guidance” from school counselors. The counselors use different formats – sometimes it is a speaker, sometimes a presentation, a small group discussion etc.

  23. So if these social traits are largely inherited and schools are notoriously bad at teaching character, how can we teach social skills? I think team sports or similar group activities may help, but sometimes they may have the opposite effect. I tend to agree that college may be a better time for teaching, but maybe not.

    There’s a young woman I’ve known since elementary school who I believe is on the autism spectrum. She is now a passably social, albeit quirky, person. She has come a long way from her younger days when her behavior was painfully antisocial, but I believe she benefited from lots of specialized coaching and counseling.

  24. “if you have top 25% intelligence and good social skills you can go far”

    Absolutely. And Austin Mom has perfect examples of how people with top 25% intelligence fail if the social component isn’t there.

    I think it is who you know, to a certain extent. But I also think that just general social skills and general emotional intelligence is really all you need to get started. If you go to State Flagship, Directional School, or Small Private (mid-level prestige), you will be able to get in the door somewhere for an entry level job. Once you are in the door, the top 25% ability mixed with social know-how will help you build a reputation within the company and eventually beyond. It’s not like kids need to have a vast professional network at 21. It will help get that first job, sure. But it’s not necessary for long term success. (long term success not being defined as only working at the Top Wall Street Firms, Top Law Firms, Top Consulting firms)

    It’s not that you need to be Mr/Ms Popularity either. Social skills don’t need to be Top 1% either. Top 25% + Top 25% is golden.

  25. Austin, I consider everything you listed to be a social skill. How the supervisor dealt with it is irrelevant – the people failed because they didn’t have the social skills to navigate the environment.

    So for those of us technical types who don’t have the best social skills, how do we teach our kids? Teaching my son what is appropriate in different basic settings is very trying (for both of us), I can’t imagine him picking up nuances in more complicated social settings.

    Bring in an expert. It’s no different than teaching them anything else. If he was struggling with a class in a subject you know nothing about, you would hire a tutor. If he wanted to play a sport that you don’t know how to play, you’d get him a coach. This is no different.

  26. “Ability is a threshold variable- being in the top decile or quintile matters a lot; being in the top one or two percent is less important than other aspects of a person’s character. ”

    Brilliant observation. I totally agree.

  27. This reminds me about our discussion about the importance of emotional intelligence in certain situations or careers.

    I received an announcement today on Linked In about the promotion to CEO of one of college friends. I’ve lost touch with her because she moved to the UK, but I was not surprised. She is so smart, has multiple degrees from the some of the best schools – plus she has excellent interpersonal skills.

    She isn’t an extrovert from birth, but she did something smart to improve her skills. She joined debate in high school and she continued with similar stuff in college and law school. It allowed her to be with people that had similar interests, but she learned how to be comfortable in new settings. She was always traveling to tournaments etc.

  28. I agree that Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are great places to learn leadership and teamwork skills, as are sports teams.

    I try and do a fair bit of training at home, by teaching the kids how to negotiate with me in a positive manner, how to “read” DH and me and act accordingly, putting them in situations where they have to meet new people, etc.

  29. To teach social skills (or attempt to) to our kids, we started with the “rules” everytime we went somewhere. To birthday parties, restaurants, doctor’s offices, playdates, sleepovers, etc. Yes, the beginning foundations are manners, but then as they mature it expands more into the social skills. For example, dinner at a friend’s house starts with – when you are offered foods, your responses are yes please or no thank you and use your utensils not your fingers (in general). Next step is thanking the adult for the meal before leaving the table. Next step is adding compliment about the meal in with the thank you. Introducing at an appropriate age, another component is to watch your peer host – if she takes her plate to the kitchen, you take yours; if she is clearing off the table, you help her, etc.

  30. I love that Austin. I need to do that with our oldest. We’ve started doing fancy family dinners on Sunday with the kids but we have a long way to go in the manners department. I’m in total awe of my neighbors’ kids – they talk to adults so well and are impeccably polite.

  31. Austin, your post reminds me of something my mom taught me. She told me it was rude to say “no thanks, I’m stuffed” if offered more food at dinner. She said, “Say, ‘I have had a sufficiency and any more would be a superfluity'”. Of course that was just my family’s sense of humor. But one day when I was maybe 9 or 10 I did say that when I was eating dinner with a friend’s family and they looked at me as if my head had fallen off.

  32. In addition to scouting and team activities – I will add free play. I found that my kids are much more social and able to deal with many personalities in their peer groups just by interacting with other kids as they play. They are also able to understand the dynamics in other families and deal with the parents of their peers.

  33. Austin-

    That is what we try to do too, and it sinks in eventually. He gets some of that at school too – a lot of emphasis on “grace & courtesy” in Montessori.

    I’d add other examples like “how to write a thank you note” – giving guidelines like first thank the person for the gift, then one sentence about something that you like about the gift, then say that you are looking forward to seeing them again at X occasion, etc. And I’m not writing it for him, he’s having to come up with the words himself so it doesn’t sound like I dictated.

  34. WCE–were most of the math camp kids from private schools? Or were they the cream of multiple public schools, or some combination? Just curious.

  35. I can’t remember any of the math camp kids being from private schools. Private schools in Iowa are either for religious people or kids who need extra support, not for academically strong students. The same thing is true where I live in Oregon. The math camp kids were mostly from Ames, Iowa City and Des Moines. Ames and Iowa City have the two major state universities and Des Moines is the state capital and has a large population sufficient to offer high level math classes.

    Today’s post has me thinking of all the things you should be top quartile (arguably top decile) in to be a one-percenter.
    1) Academic ability
    2) Family stability/parental support
    3) Social skills
    4) Knowing other one percenters
    5) High school course offerings
    6) National home price
    (59% of sales are <$250k, 30% are $250-$500k, 7% $500-$750k, 4% over $750k)
    7) Public speaking
    8) Physical attractiveness
    9) Family social/professional connections

    Agree? Disagree? What am I missing? Not all these are independent variables.

  36. RMS, your family’s sense of humor seems a lot like my family’s. Had you said that at our house, we would probably have looked at you as a good peer for whichever kid had invited you.

  37. I’ve always felt like the real money was in being the person who can communicate complicated things to average people. I once worked for an actuary who wasn’t the best actuary but he was a great dude and he was the practice leader because he could explain this stuff to normal people. I also think there is immense value in having good instincts and knowing how to make good business decisions. I see this in DH who grew up with an executive father. A lot of that rubbed off on him. This is one of the many ways in which the underprivileged don’t start at the same place as others.

    In the end all things being equal, most people would like to work with someone with whom they would enjoy spending time. Most people spend more time with people at work than they do their own families.

  38. They’re ranked in the order I thought of them in. Obviously some things (local housing price, knowing other one percenters, social/family connections) are correlated.

    I was thinking about why our society isn’t socioeconomically mobile. Why don’t one percenters come from, say, reservations in South Dakota?

  39. “Are those ranked in order of importance?”

    I would say yes. Except for #6–I’m not quite sure what she’s getting at, unless that means to live among other affluent people.

  40. Yes, Milo, living among other affluent people is what I was getting at. I suspect winemama lives where median home price is <$250k. Maybe Denver Dad and SWVA Engr. Who else?

  41. AustinMom, I do that, too, but have thought of it as “setting expectations,” not “teaching social skills,” but I like that re-framing. Thinking of it that way will remind me to do it more often.

  42. Milo,

    For a women, physical attractiveness alone can get you into the 1% in the role of lululemon clad yummy mummy. As for guys? Being over 6′ tall with good social skills and a lustrous head of hair is likely to get you a hell of a lot farther in corporate America than academic ability.

  43. “Why don’t one percenters come from, say, reservations in South Dakota?”

    Because “one percenter” is too limited of a metric to use. It’s not adjusted for local COL, and, as it’s discussed in the news, it almost always looks exclusively at earned income and not investment income. To earn $400k in salaries, you generally need a very specific sort of job(s) that are located in major metropolitan areas.

  44. Good health, physical fitness. Athletic ability certainly helps, but I know many 1% who are not top quartile for athletics.

  45. I believe home price is less than $250k around here. I think that living among people who have habits and expectations of material success is educational. Not in the school sense, but that there are habits of mind that successful people have.

  46. “Why don’t one percenters come from, say, reservations in South Dakota?”

    Perhaps that is as much, or more, cultural than geographic.

    We have our share of 1%ers here, but my guess is that the 1%ers with native blood are mostlydescendants of royalty.

  47. WCE, you’re missing energy/ambition/drive. That’s the quality that probably explains why so many of us think of ourselves as lazy — we know all the little ways in which we chose a less demanding option than chasing the next rung of the ladder, whether deliberately or just through inaction.

  48. Hmm — WCE, I assume you mean these are the characteristics to be in the top 25-10% in order to make it to the top 1%? I think there’s a high correlation, i.e., that the more you have of these, the likelier you are to be in the top 1%. But I also don’t think that any of these are disqualifiers, because being really awesome in one can make up for being crappy in others. E.g., think of all the famous models who come out of the Ukraine or Brazil or somewhere — maybe not so awesome at anything, but the attractiveness knocks it out of the park (and then gives them time/$$ to develop the social skills, connections, and other characteristics that can help cement a career). Or on the flip side, look at Bill Gates.

    Growing up, I flunked 3-4 of those and was marginal at best on at least 3 others. And that’s giving myself credit for family stability, even though the prevailing wisdom at the time was that my “broken home” would damn me to perdition and underachievement, maybe not in that order (they didn’t have the connections or money, but they had the UMC expectations for educational achievement and behavior).

    I think maybe the thing that isn’t mentioned here is drive, or ambition, or grit, or persistence, or whatever you want to call it. I think someone who combines a high ranking in one or two areas with a drive to succeed will likely either do very well or flame out trying.

  49. Hey Finn, have you heard anything more about the boy from your kids’ school who went missing? I see the signs around town and I wonder. I certainly hope it’ll turn out that it was just a case of running away when the stress was too much for him.

  50. HM, good point about energy/ambition/drive. Not only do professional achievers need to be high in those areas, they also can’t be high energy and devote that energy to four children, parents with terminal cancer, etc.

  51. HM, they’ve stopped looking. After about a week or so, the family posted something along the lines that they don’t think they will see him alive again. Some classmates continued to look, but I think by now that’s stopped. I’m not sure that there aren’t some classmates who think he’s still alive somewhere.

  52. Along with energy/ambition/drive goes self-discipline. Perhaps ability to delay gratification also belongs on the list.

  53. “We have our share of 1%ers here, but my guess is that the 1%ers with native blood are mostlydescendants of royalty.”

    I would also guess that the vast majority of local 1%ers with native blood are private school alums.

  54. Agree with the self-discipline/delayed gratification component.

    Unrelated — DD#1 texted earlier today asking that I send something she forgot for an after school appointment with her dad who is picking her up today. I just recevied a thank you text. I’m happy!

  55. Different people want different things. I like my new manager. He commented that he used to be in a program to support people (especially underrepresented minorities) who want to move into upper level management, but as he got to know the upper level managers personally, he decided he didn’t want his family to look like that, so he left the program. Certainly not all upper level managers have family challenges, but it was common enough for him to prefer to remain low level.

  56. WCE, you’re missing energy/ambition/drive

    I agree. I think a lot of it is just wanting it.

  57. “I agree. I think a lot of it is just wanting it.”

    Agreed. And I also think part of wanting it is knowing that it’s reasonably possible. It’s harder to believe that if most of what you know is the reservation in South Dakota.

  58. What do you teach your kids about principles that should not be violated? Is it OK to denigrate your colleagues or stick your spouse with all the scutwork in order to get ahead professionally? Much of social skill is cultural- I saw an article headline discussing whether Germans would ever cross against the red light, and it made me think about rules vs. social norms about other things, like the fact that Google had to teach its driverless car to break driving laws or it got stuck indefinitely at 4 way stops.

  59. Is it OK to denigrate your colleagues

    Remember that article about working at Amazon? If that’s how the game is played there you either play the game or you quit. You need to deal with things as they are not as you wish they would be.

    stick your spouse with all the scutwork in order to get ahead professionally?

    Stick? No. Have them agree to the scutwork while you pursue career advancement as part of a mutually agreeable and beneficial arrangement? That’s fine.

  60. Agree with Rhett re: scutwork. We talked early on and decided that his career would be the driver. I do most everything else but he steps up when he can or when asked.

  61. WCE – Some things I try to teach, not sure they align 100% with your comment:
    1. Know the rules well enough to use them to your advantage. (That does not mean break them, but use them strategically.)
    2. Be aware that every job (paid or volunteer) has scutwork. Be informed enough to know what is the “best” of it and volunteer to do that and in many, but not all, organizations, you can avoid the “worst” of it because you are already busy and you reminded your boss about what you already volunteered to do.
    3. Realize that some rules are written, but many are unwritten. Make sure you know both and are aware of when they change. Hint – this is harder to figure out for unwritten ones as no memo comes out, but they are often the ones that can bite you worse.
    4. Make yourself aware of the office politics – who has visible power and who has behind the scenes power. If you decide to play in them, realize you may get burned. (This amazingly applies to MS girls.)
    5. Given the above, you always have to make choices based on your ethics and the situation. In the end, you only have to justify yourself to yourself. But, a good test is would you be excited to come home and tell your kid, mom, grandma, whom ever is important in your life. about that choice you made today? If not, then you probably don’t want to do it.

  62. . Realize that some rules are written, but many are unwritten.

    And they often contradict each other.

  63. AustinMom, great comment. I’ve thought about career progression lately in terms of “willingness to move.” Our city attorney was featured for his service (not quite continuous) since 1971. If you wanted to become a city attorney since then, our city was not the place to do it.

  64. “Know the rules well enough to use them to your advantage. (That does not mean break them, but use them strategically.)”

    I’ve tried (although probably not hard enough) to teach this to my kids. More broadly, I’ve tried to teach them to understand their constraints, but just as importantly, understand what is not constrained, and to be creative in trying to find solutions within those limitations. Some of the constraints may not be spelled out, and understanding those often requires EQ. E.g., for a homework assignment, the teacher who wrote the assignment may not explicitly spell out all the constraints, but after some time with the teacher, the kids should have a feel for those unwritten constraints.

  65. And there can be a lot of disagreement as to exactly how the unwritten rules apply, especially in the fringe cases.

    To use a seasonal unwritten rule as an example, most everyone agrees that 5-10 year olds are fine for trick-or-treating, and 35 year olds are too old, but what about a baby in a costume bunting being carried around by proud parents? A couple of costumed 15 year olds? I think both of those are ok, but I know there are people who disagree.

  66. WCE, other things for your list might be ability/willingness to take risks, and to deal with uncertainty. Entrepreneurs tend to have a lot of these, and people who don’t tend to not be entrepreneurs.

  67. Finn, I think entrepreneurial risk taking is correlated with socioeconomic status. I was thinking about a TBP laureate acquaintance who was diagnosed with lymphoma while working on her PhD at Princeton. She was able to take time off for treatment and went on to professional success. The fact that her parents could care for her at home during treatment and handled medical bills/system interaction meant that her cancer was not a deal-breaker for her life, in the way that medical bills (and subsequent high interest rates and collections) for someone of lower socioeconomic status might be in their early 20’s.

    It’s a lot easier to take risks if you know you aren’t going to wind up living under a bridge if you fail. One of the things I’ve learned from this blog is that many parents do NOT expect their kids to be on their own (especially in terms of ensuring their own financial security) at 18.

  68. “It’s a lot easier to take risks if you know you aren’t going to wind up living under a bridge if you fail.”

    OTOH, if you’re already living on the bridge, it’s hard to take a risk because you don’t have much to risk.

    For a given SES, there are differences in ability/willingness to take risks, and those with that have a higher upside than those that don’t. They also have a lower downside.

  69. Finn, I think what makes people risk averse or not is fascinating. I am risk-averse, and I think it’s partly because I had the opportunity to observe so many ways to mess up one’s life by taking poorly considered risks.

    People who observe successful entrepreneurial risk probably see an upside to taking risk that I can’t see.

    There are also people who optimize their financial situation in the face of unavoidable risk, like my Dad’s explanation of why he wanted to be an Officer instead of Enlisted in the infantry during Vietnam. “If I was going to get killed, I wanted to get killed for more money.”

  70. That was Stanley’s hypothesis about the self-made multimillionaire business owners being the former C students. They were often successful because they were somewhat accustomed to failure and weren’t quite so terrified of it.

  71. “I think entrepreneurial risk taking is correlated with socioeconomic status”

    There is a saying “Behind every entrepreneur is a spouse with benefits and a steady paycheck .” I play this role in our family.

  72. WCE,

    I’m not sure about that, My college roommate grew up in a family where everyone was an entrepreneur. Their theory was that we are all entrepreneurs but when you work for IBM or GE you’re just a business owner with one customer.

  73. WCE,

    You don’t seem risk averse at all. If you were risk averse you’d live somewhere where if you got laid off there would be 100 other companies that would love to have you. I don’t get the sense that is the case where you are.

  74. “People who observe successful entrepreneurial risk probably see an upside to taking risk that I can’t see. ”

    Entrepreneurial risk is very high. Most new companies fail. It really is zero-sum. To do it over and over takes a really unique type of person. I don’t mean that necessarily in a good way. It’s a tough business.

    I spend a lot of time talking college/grad students out of starting companies. I call myself, only half jokingly, “the dream killer”. When you have student debt, a steady paycheck and benefits are a good thing.

  75. Entrepreneurialism seems to have a large cultural component. I wonder if risk-taking is similarly influenced by cultural background.

  76. Perhaps I should have said that entrepreneurialism has a large ethnic component. It’s interesting (at least to me) that certain ethnic groups tend to certain occupations.

  77. I am getting old because there was a time when I would have agreed with you about certain ethnic groups dominating certain fields. I’ve been around long enough now to see the cycle of a few generations of immigrants in NYC. The ethnic groups that provided the services when I was a child are almost completely out of those business areas. Is it possible that it is easier for certain immigrants to open certain business types with little knowledge of English, or cash?

    Another example is nursing. If you enter any NYC hospital today, the nurses are from very different backgrounds vs. 30 years ago. Same for doctors on a much smaller scale.

    I think these patterns are easier to see in a large city like NY that attracts different ethnic groups from all over the world. There are definite patterns as to the professions, or entrepreneur track. As with other groups….as they assimilate, their children follow a very different path. This leads me to think that it isn’t their ethnic makeup, but the timing of when certain populations enter the US.

    I happen to think hat some people are born with the need to run, create or manage their own business. I don’t necessarily think it is socioeconomic status. It might be much harder to get the capital you need to grow a business if you don’t have the right connections, but some people just seem to have the need to be entrepreneurs in their DNA. You can see it in a very tiny form on Shark Tank. Most of the sharks come from working class backgrounds.

  78. My spouse is an entrepreneur. He thinks about risk/reward much differently than I do. He also is very much a big picture person, and I am a details person. It took a lot for him to convince me that he should quit his high paying steady job. It is an interesting way to live. And god bless Obamacare, because without it, I never would have agreed to his plan.

  79. Speaking of 1% on reservations, it isn’t South Dakota, but check out the Mdewakanton Sioux of Minnesota. They are very hush hush about their wealth, but are considered by most to be the wealthiest tribe. In Wiki it lists some of their chartible giving to give you an idea.

  80. WCE – I also saw the Germany red light debate and I thought of Saac and how she talked about this phenomenon!

    I would also add leadership ability to the list. It may not be necessary in all 1% situations (athletes, models, tech millionaires, etc.), but I think it is a real plus.

  81. Honolulu mother – I think a baby should not be collecting candy for his parents. I think it is cute when a parent brings the baby along (in costume) when escorting the older kids, but it would seem odd to me to actually have them come to the door with a basket.

    I also think 15 is too old, but that may be just me! I think 7th or 8th grade should be the end of your trick-or-treating career.

  82. In the end all things being equal, most people would like to work with someone with whom they would enjoy spending time. Most people spend more time with people at work than they do their own families.

    The layover test.

  83. I suspect winemama lives where median home price is <$250k. Maybe Denver Dad and SWVA Engr. Who else?

    According to Zillow, the median home price is Denver is $326k.

  84. In the home country, there are certain groups that are entrepreneurial in nature. This is the same ethnic group that runs motels, grocery stores, gas stations in the U.S. They are often derided and many countries in Africa targeted and expelled them because they were the most visible sign of entrepreneurial success. Some of this has changed with education but there are still a fair number who will start small businesses in say computing and prefer to work for themselves. A lot of this is learned because in the home country the kids would help in the stores after school so they know how to man the cash register, stock the shelves, deal with customers etc.

  85. This comment thread contains many nuggets of parenting wisdom, and it made me consider the incredibly challenging art of parenting. First, many parents don’t have the benefit of knowing many of these social skills or even academic skills. So their kids are clearly disadvantaged. At the other end of the spectrum, some parents possess superb social and/or academic skills, but lack the ability to teach them to their children. Their kids are also disadvantaged. Then consider that kids learn in different ways. Although it’s commonly believed that example is the best teacher, many kids need more explicit instruction. All in all, it’s a wonder any of us turn out okay. (Just kidding, of course.)

  86. I’m at Acura for a recall, and I am in the waiting room. There are social norms expected in the most dealer waiting rooms, but today I saw something new. A guy just walked in with his dog.

  87. I think Lauren’s comment about immigration waves is worthy of a longer discussion. Some of it is timing, but there are other cultural factors as well. For immigrations after the last major wave of northern Europeans in the 1870s, I think the longterm fortunes of certain groups can be correlated also with literacy, especially female literacy in the group as it arrived on these shores. I had friends as a young mom who were responsible for widowed parents or parents in law, not just grandparents, who were illiterate in English and barely literate in their native language.

  88. Lauren-I don’t get the people who take their dogs everywhere. I was at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago and a guy was walking his dog around the store. I live in a town that is very dog-friendly, but seriously???

  89. Finn – It took me having a bad experience in college to learn that lesson well. Rhett – Yes – even sometimes the written rules conflict with each other let alone putting in the unwritten ones. CoC – My parents didn’t teach me much about social skills past manners or anything about the work place. I am still very grateful for the environment my first boss set up to teach us fresh grads lots of the ways of the work world. At times he could be a little paternalistic, but overall an exceptional mentor.

  90. “I’ve tried to teach them to understand their constraints, but just as importantly, understand what is not constrained, and to be creative in trying to find solutions within those limitations.”

    ITA. I.e., it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. If DD can apply her mom-argumentation-loophole-finding skills to the work world, she will end up in either the executive suite or the federal pen. But this is one of the cultural factors with women on the job — we tend as a group to assume we can’t unless we can find a policy clearly allowing something, whereas men as a group tend to assume they can unless someone shows them a policy that clearly forbids it.

    OTOH, I disagree that entrepreneurship is associated with SES. I think the entrepreneur personality runs the gamut from Trump (it was hard, I even had to borrow my first million from my dad) to the hustler looking to take over the closest street corner. And in between, MND identified a significant chunk of self-made millionaires from blue collar businesses that they built up from nothing.

    But what do you consider an entrepreneur? Some people take risks because they can afford to, because the spouse has a steady job. Some people take risks because they can’t afford not to, because they don’t have any other options. And then some people take risks because that’s who they are — they want to build something and are willing to throw everything at it.

  91. DH has the entrepreneur gene, but he ALSO has the fingers-in-many-different-pots gene. So his first startup that was his only source of income was in 1999. While starting latest company, he has also had 3 other sources of income, so while he has been bootstrapping the company up, it’s not like he didn’t have other funds coming in at the same time.

    Finn – 10 runs in Little League. In HS, college, and above – never.

  92. Are you a rule follower? For instance, if you are told that you need to be at your desk from 8-5, do you:
    A. Arrive early in order to make sure you are there on time.
    B. Arrive right at 8 because you think it’s dumb, but you’ll follow the rules.
    C. Show up at 8:15 because F@!# that. You are a kick a$$ employee, so they can call you on it if the rule really matters.

    I chose C. I think of rules as more like guidelines. I’ll follow them if they make sense but in going to ignore the dumb ones.

  93. @tcmama: D. Plan to arrive right at 8 per the rationale set forth in B. Base anticipated departure time on the assumption that there will be no traffic and all the lights will be green. At departure time, recall plan to bring leftovers for lunches and detour to kitchen; at 2 minutes past planned departure time, confirm that DD has key, then wait by car as she sprints upstairs. At 3 minutes past planned departure time, recall that dairy delivery was this morning, marshal all hands to put perishables away. Show up at 8:15.

  94. @tcmama – I would probably show up at 8:30 unless there is a meeting I have to be there for.:) This morning I was all set to be on time and left my two younger kids watching television downstairs so I could run upstairs and get dressed/put make up on. Come downstairs and see that my son has decided to “face paint” his little sister with the crayola paints (at least it was washable). She had blue/green paint all over her face and clothes and needed a bath/complete change of clothes. Arrive 30 minutes late to preschool and work.

  95. I’m sorry I’ve not had a chance to comment on this interesting thread. I read “Emotional Intelligence” in college & did a paper on it, and it had a big impact on me.

    DH and I have definitely sought to teach our kids social skills from a combination of practicing manners at home, talking about expectations like Austin says, and actively seeking out a lot of different situations to expose them to. Also free play with peers is really important.

    One of ours is very shy with adults, so it’s hard for him to order for himself at a restaurant, engage in small talk with the dentist, etc. But I hope that the more we talk about the importance of it and the more opportunity he has, the more naturally it will come.

  96. Lark – my husband was like that as a kid. Apparently he used to make his little brother ask for things for him at restaurants/stores/with other adults. He’s an introvert by nature, but learned how to make small talk, order for himself, etc. well before high school.

  97. Also: thinking about it, I think my description of option D above is really my version of C.

    My dad’s side of the family runs on what I call “[my last name] time.” I was chronically late to everything. But that doesn’t go over well on the job, so I had to learn to compensate for that. So I learned to take the time I *think* I have to leave and move it 30 minutes earlier. That way, when I remember the last-minute stuff, I will still be leaving 15 minutes early, which then leaves time for all of the traffic and red lights I like to forget about when I plan how long the drive will be. This means that when I need to be somewhere at a time that actually matters, I consistently manage to do that.

    But I also hate stupid, meaningless rules (like when I had to be at my desk no later than 9 or else take PTO, but they were perfectly happy if I stayed late without compensation or comp time). At the same time, I don’t tend to go in-your-face f-u. So I think those sorts of rules go into the mental “don’t really count” category, which means my brain reverts to my “normal” plan and not the “critical” plan, which then means my morning schedule goes along based on the assumption that everything will go right and there will be no traffic. And the end result is that I’m late more often than not, but always with some excuse.

    So I’m thinking this has to be a passive-aggressive f-u, with built-in plausible deniability if I get called on it. :-)

  98. “at your desk from 8-5”

    This sounds like my bank teller job. I got there at 7:55 and left at 5:01, but I also had time to read maybe a big thick book a day, or a little less if it was really busy. The other ladies gave me a big side-eye for that, but it was a summer job for me so I didn’t really care.

    When I had to bill tons of hours, I would get to work at 6 or 6:30 and leave at 5 or 5:30, never later than that. Now I get there at 9 or when I damn well please, and leave whenever I want (it is rare that I am there past 5). F#*@ facetime!

  99. Annual incidence of colorectal cancer, as it pertains to risk: 50 per 10,000 (0.5%).
    Estimated lifetime risk: 4.8%, assuming living to 75

    Annual incidence of colorectal cancer in people eating processed meat 59 per 10,000 (0.6%)
    Estimated lifetime risk: 5.6%

    Absolute annual risk increase: 0.09%
    Absolute lifetime relative risk increase: 0.8%

    Number of people who need to quit all processed meat for one year in order to prevent on case of colorectal cancer: 1/0.09 = 1,111
    Number of people who need to quit all processed meat for their entire lives in order to prevent one case of colorectal cancer 1/0.8 = 125

    So, go out and find 124 friends, and all of you should quit eating any processed meat for the rest of your lives. Figure out which ONE of you did not get colorectal cancer as a result, even though 6 of you will get it anyway.

    FFS, Get your colonoscopies.

  100. I noticed that an shift happened over time as everyone moved to laptops at work. You didn’t have to be available on the dot at 8 am if there wasn’t anything urgent. People would give you a grace period up to 8.45. You don’t even have to be in the office.
    Similarly if you were known as a responsive person, no one would mind if you shut down by 4 pm. If there was something pending they knew they would have an answer in a reasonable period. This is one of the unspoken rules we discussed working in real life.

  101. Two things I’ve come up against lately:
    1. Ask for forgiveness later in some cases is clearly a sign of disrespect. As much of this as I see going on with my kids peers, I have been a bit more cautious about this approach as a role model.
    2. Tcmama – Depends on job and the written and unwritten rules of my employer and my supervisor as I want to keep my job or at least leave without being fired. I had one job where under one boss the answer was anytime before 9 am was OK, but more focus was on your output. Boss changed and anything after 8:15 was late. Second boss would write you up for it and after so many you were put on probation. Now, I complied while I looked for another job.

  102. My question is really about whether people are rule followers or not. The asking forgiveness vs. permission really struck me in recent articles about work/life balance. Men more often just make work/life balance for them and take actions that work best for them. Women more often ask permission and then get dinged for it.

    The boss who said everyone had to be there at 8 never actually had the guts to fire someone. Also, I have rarely seen everyone actually fired for not performing. When it has happened, there was LOTS of documentation before it actually happened. In this case of this boss, if I had gotten written up about it, I would have either fought back with documentation about how he showed up after 8, how my work product was superior, or started showing up on time and doing no work. I did switch jobs after awhile as that department was beyond dysfunctional.

  103. tcmama – I fall back on use the rules to your advantage and know the unwritten ones too. I tend to push many rules just to the edge.

    To clarify my statement: This past weekend, I saw an adult take the ask for forgiveness approach and then jump on the kids under her supervision for doing the exact same thing. The adult’s response was “You know you aren’t supposed to do THAT. Why aren’t you following the rules?” It was hard not to point out that the kids were just following the example the adult in charge set. It made me think about when my kids break my rules and have I set the example that that is OK? And what rules is it never OK to break – like smoking in a room with a person on oxygen.

  104. To be clear, I don’t advocate breaking rules.

    However, I do advocate not assuming rules exist just based on the behavior of others, or the assumptions of others. E.g., don’t assume you need to follow convention just because that’s how everybody else does something; if there’s no rule against doing it some other way, consider whether that other way makes more sense.

    So I would advocate for the ‘ask for forgiveness’ approach in some cases of breaking with convention, but not breaking actual rules.

    OTOH, Lauren’s dog owner story is an example of why this approach can be bad. The dealer may not have had an explicit policy against bringing dogs in because common courtesy obviated that, but the dog owner’s lack of such puts the dealer into an awkward position and may require the imposition of a rule, or the risk of other customers being offended and choosing to go elsewhere.

  105. OK, in the spirit of recently discussed changes here, I’ll come out and say that IMO, many dog owners, e.g., possibly the two cited here, are self-centered jerks. Beyond the two examples here, those who let their dogs do their business in other peoples’ yards are common examples of just self-centered jerkiness.

  106. Oops, those who let their dogs do their business in other peoples’ yards are common examples of such self-centered jerkiness.

  107. @Finn on October 28, 2015 at 11:56 am —

    Oh, don’t get me started on the (as yet unidentified) guy who always picks up the dog poop, bags it, and then deposits it in the trash can that I put out for garbage day — AFTER the truck has already come and gone.

  108. LfB– again, too selfish to bother carrying the poop home and properly disposing of it.

    BTW, do you know it’s a guy doing it?

  109. @Finn — no. I am just assuming because 90% of the people I see walking dogs in the morning are guys. And I do have one suspect (the guy whomI have seen walking his little white dog onto our lawn, inside the front bushes, to pee — I figure if you’re out there enough to let your dog up my driveway to pee instead of going on the strip between the sidewalk and the street like everyone else, you may well also think it’s ok to leave your little present in my trash can). But, yeah, it’s an assumption.

  110. If I actually knew who was doing it, I would either say something directly (like “dude, do you know what that smells like when it sits in there for a week before the next trash pickup?”), or start taking my cat litter box cleanings down to put in his trash can.

    The latter option being preferred, but in my dreams.

  111. LfB – You could be like this one crazy person in DW’s extended family who was annoyed by her neighbors allowing their dog to defecate on their property, so she started saving the droppings in plastic bags until the weather was warm enough for the neighbor to leave his convertible in the driveway with the top down, at which point she dumped them in his Corvette.

  112. @Milo — ok, thanks for getting me in trouble for laughing out loud in the middle of my conference call. . . .

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