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Why I'm Not Trying to Raise the Next Steve Jobs

Raising the next generation of innovators isn't about molding kids in anybody's image.


My father, still mourning the fact that none of his children went into medicine or investment banking, has been passing along selected stories from The Wall Street Journal, with an expectant preface: "I think you’ll find this interesting."

I’ve been informed that "Chinese Parents Are Superior," "French Parents Are Superior," and most recently, given a primer on "Educating the Next Steve Jobs." Internal red flags started waving: I love my iPhone and iPad, but do my daughters really need to aspire to be the next Jobs?

But it turns out the book that how-to guide was based on, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, isn't about molding kids in Jobs' image—or anyone's. The book, by Harvard fellow Tony Wagner, advocates for a childhood of free play—much like that of the star of Caine's Arcade, which features a 9-year-old's creations made of curiosity, joy, and cardboard. Caine's experience follows a simple formula Wagner explains: Innovation flourishes when play grows into passion and is channeled into purpose—with support from a parent who encourages, but stays out of the way.

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