A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit the Ambri research and development laboratory. If you haven’t heard of them, I would encourage you to watch this video now, before reading on.
As we toured the facilities, I was struck by the level of innovation and critical thinking that was going into their battery. They are entering uncharted territory – a place where no company has ever gone before. There is no industry standard. There is no “best practice” to lean on. They have to test everything and consider tiny details.
They know the chemical reaction works; now they need to figure out how to package it. They have experimented with the shape and size of the cells, the material for the cells, and the spacing between them. No detail is too small – should the metal be cut like this to best disperse the energy? Or like that? Should we weld this? Or press it? Make 4” x 4” cells? Or 6” x 6”? Or 8” x 8”?
Ultimately, Ambri has nobody to lean on but themselves. Any one of thousands of decisions they are making could lead to the failure of their battery. But if they can pull this off, they will change the world. It’s pretty exciting, heady stuff.
As I talked with Phil Guidice, CEO of Ambri, about all the steps they are taking, I was reminded of a discussion I had years ago when I was planning and preparing to take our dog, Dash, on our journey. My first plan of attack was to check out all purpose-made dog baskets on the market. Unfortunately, they were all too flimsy for what we were planning. They would have been fine for a Sunday afternoon ride in the park, but would not hold up to the demands of a long journey.
My next step was to explore options to figure out what I could re-purpose to make work. I finally settled on a strong milk crate attached to the bike with strong nylon straps. I was happy with my plan and was confident that Dash would be both safe and comfortable.
And then came the emails. “Are you crazy? If you are going to take your dog on your bike, you need to get a commercially-produced, purpose-built basket.”
“They do not exist,” I responded. “That is why I have created my own design.”
“Well,” my critic countered, “if they don’t exist, that probably means it is a dumb idea and should not be done.”
Which brings me to the point of this article. Because nobody has done it yet, does that mean it should not be done?
Entrepreneurs have been searching for uncharted territory for years; always looking for that brilliant, yet undeveloped, idea to break into an untapped market. In general, we as a society have embraced that as a good, albeit risky, thing.
We are fairly supportive of companies like Ambri and realize that our world is where it’s at because people like Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk refused to accept the status quo. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are revered due to their creative genius and willingness to go where others wouldn’t.
We are fairly tolerant of young adventurous single explorers pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. When Felix Baumgartner jumped out of his hot air balloon from miles above the earth’s surface we, for the most part, applauded his bravery. We were excited when, in 2005, Ed Viesturs became the first American to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks.
But once children or pets enter the picture everything changes – at least for some people. Many feel that parents have a responsibility to play it safe. To tread gently within the boundaries of what society deems acceptable. Parents who push the envelope are irresponsible. They should do the expected and save the risky stuff for after their kids leave home.
But should we? Is that really what we want to teach our children? Will our kids learn to dream big if we parents shove our own dreams under a pillow. Will children learn to go beyond commonly accepted boundaries and challenge traditional thinking from parents who play it safe?
When I was in one of my teaching courses in university, my professor said, “There are three best ways to teach: model, model, and model.” I’ve seen that to be the case over and over again. I, as a teacher, modeled the behavior or thought process I wanted from my kids, and they learned it. Modeling truly is the best way to teach.
And yet our society does the opposite. We “play it safe” and somehow expect our kids to take it a step farther. We say with words that we want our kids to be creative, to think critically, to be willing to jump outside the box, but we won’t do it as parents. How, exactly, do we expect our kids to?
“But it’s foolish,” some will argue. “Your kids need you alive. They need to be supported financially. Taking risks with either your life or your finances can only be a bad thing.”
I get that. I know I struggle with that idea. My kids DO need me. Taking unnecessary risks with my life would be foolish. But how, exactly, do we define unnecessary? I don’t want my kids to grow up homeless because I risked our finances and lost it all.
But then I look back through history and see that it was the risk-takers who changed our world. It was Alexander Graham Bell who dared to dream of a way to communicate with those far away. Pioneers who loaded all their earthly belongings in a covered wagon and walked thousands of miles west in search of a better life. It was Mark Zuckerberg dreaming up Facebook. Small start-ups that created cell phones and expanded internet and designed Velcro to hold things in place in outer space.
Our society will never move forward if everyone plays it safe.
So where is the balance? How do we find that tightrope suspended precariously over Niagara Falls – the one we as parents must somehow navigate in order to teach our kids? One thing I know is that it starts early.
It starts with parents who are willing to allow their children the freedom to learn.
Lia Keller, who blogs over at Skedaddle, allows her kids to climb trees, at the risk of falling out. She allows them to cross creeks and climb mountains, and teaches them appropriate safety strategies. “I want my kids to learn about risk and to trust their own judgment about situations; I hope they can avoid the teenage recklessness,” she says. “I want them to have a sense of danger and what might happen if they are careless. Thus, I sit on the bench as my kids jump off trees and lean over edges not because I don’t care. I let them do these things because I care deeply for their futures as teen age boys! I want them to be adventurous souls, but come back home in one piece.”
Ken Smalz also addresses that question in his blog, Big Grey Rocks. “Am I exposing my kids to risks? Absolutely. When we reach the trailhead and step out of the car we’ve re-entered the food chain.” He finally came to the conclusion that in the end, not exposing kids to risks early and showing them how to assess, avoid or mitigate risks is far, far riskier than the alternative. “In all seasons, there are cliffs to fall off, rivers to drown in, and falling rocks to dodge. There are many ways to get injured, maimed, crippled and killed in the mountains. But is it safer to not expose your children to these and other risks, or to teach them how to identify the risks and manage them?”
Susan, the blogger behind Mountain Mom and Tots wrote a post in response to an article she found in Psychologist Today about why children need risky play and how they benefit from it. “The article explains that kids crave play in this way to test their limits, learn how to handle fear and to feel thrill by combining the joy of freedom with a dose of danger. Risky play can help with emotional regulation of children, teaching them how to keep a level head when they feel scared or how to manage anger when rough and tumble play gets out of hand.”
And then she asks the critical question “If free play involving some element of danger is so important to kids development, why is it so hard as a parent to let them do it?”
It’s imperative that we allow our children the freedom to explore and discover, to learn and to grow. But it’s equally as important for parents to model what they want, to teach by example, to walk the talk. If we want kids who will break through the accepted norms in society, we need to attempt it ourselves. It’s scary, but I would go so far as to say that we parents have the responsibility to do it.
Over on Adventurous Parents, Meghan wrote a three-part series on the whole idea of taking risks as parents. What are our responsibilities as parents? Is it fair that we would head out to do risky things, knowing that our children could be seriously affected? What are the rewards – both to ourselves and for our children?
Another friend of mine, Melissa, has addressed that question in her blog, Adventure Tykes. Where is that line? Where is that razor sharp dividing line between foolishness and adventure? For the record, I don’t think any of us have actually found it, but it’s good to think about it.
I think it is pretty clear where I stand on the risk issue. I believe strongly that kids need to be exposed to all sorts of risk in order to be willing to go beyond the standard accepted status quo when they are adults. They need to be pushed, but more than that, they need to be allowed to follow their own gut – kids are inherent risk-takers.
It’s us parents who hold them back. We are the ones who refuse to let them develop to their full potential. We are the ones who tell them, through both words and actions, that it’s better to stay within the socially acceptable limits than to push those boundaries.
And then we turn around and wonder why they aren’t out there changing the world.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Please leave a comment below about where that razor edge is. To what extent should we parents be pushing and/or allowing our children to take risks? In what ways do we have an obligation to save them from themselves?