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Parents, Teach Your Kids How to Create Their Own Edge to Get Ahead

by LAURA HUANG

Recently, several high-profile celebrities made news for their role in a college admissions scam. These parents just wanted to give their kids an edge, they say.

While others would never go quite that far, most parents try to provide their kids with every opportunity they can to gain an advantage. We can’t help it, as we want the best for our children and their futures. However, instead of fighting to give our kids an edge, we should focus on teaching them how to create their own edge. We need to empower our children to navigate whatever life presents to them with agility and poise, no matter the type of challenge, the nature of the disadvantage, or the extent of the bias they may face. To do this, we need to teach them how to create their own opportunities and be able to surprise—and impress—those who might judge them. And, to delight.

After more than a decade of researching disadvantage and individuals who are underestimated in their careers, workplace interactions, and interpersonal relationships at the Wharton School and Harvard Business School, where I teach now, I have found that success depends on effectively opening doors and showing others the value we provide. To do that, we must find ways to surprise others and catch their attention. Only then can we offer our strengths—and even our weaknesses—as valuable assets.

In my upcoming book, Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage, I write that the ability to delight is crucial to opening those doors. Don’t get me wrong: delighting isn’t synonymous with being charming or entertaining. When we delight others, we violate their perceptions in a benign way, unsettling their perceptions about who we are and what we can do. Delighting through highlighting the unexpected has the power to unfreeze beliefs, capturing the attention of gatekeepers and making way for us to show our value.

Rest assured: everyone has the power to delight. This was something that I learned in raising my kids, in one of their favorite movies growing up, Disney Pixar’s movie Ratatouille, whereby Remy the rat dreams of becoming a great chef like his hero, Anton Gusteau. Incredibly, Remy has a natural talent to create exquisite dishes and begins cooking at the late Gusteau’s restaurant, hidden inside the chef’s hat of his human companion. Despite his incredible skill, Remy battles society’s perceptions of rats as unclean. After all, how can a rat be accepted as the chef behind a five-star restaurant?

And yet, Remy prepares a magnificently delightful meal of ratatouille for food critic Anton Ego, later revealing the unbelievable fact that he is a rat. Ego is so amazed and inspired—and he declares: “a great artist can come from anywhere.”

Chu and his music supervisor earmarked Coldplay’s song “Yellow” to fit the film’s climactic final scene. But when they reached out to the band, Coldplay refused, due to previous negative publicity and criticisms of cultural appropriation. However, Chu didn’t give up. He wrote a personal letter to Coldplay, explaining how the song was a young adult “anthem” for him and his friends. The song “Yellow” had helped them reclaim the word yellow. It enabled them to take pride in this perspective.

Chu delighted Coldplay, sharing personal anecdotes and experiences in his case for the song “Yellow.” And it worked. In the film, a Mandarin version of “Yellow” poignantly plays as the protagonist realizes her own strength and owns her multiple cultures and identities—just as Chu did growing up. Without seizing this chance to delight, Chu and Crazy Rich Asians would not have become such a phenomenon. The film grossed $238.5 million worldwide, against a production budget of $30 million. The film’s use of “Yellow” itself grabbed headlines. And the film touched millions of peoples’ hearts around the world.

Remy’s and Chu’s stories show what kind of magic you can make happen when you understand how to delight others.

We naturally want to give our kids an advantage, setting them up for future success. It’s easy to do that, especially when you have the resources of big celebrities. But instead of trying to give our kids everything and anything, we need to teach them how to craft a unique edge.

We need to learn how to delight others, and we need to teach our kids how to do so as well. We need to teach them that success depends on creating their own unique edge. We need to teach them to embrace their distinct experiences and attributes. In doing so, we set them up to showcase their value—to face their own challenges with grace and to smooth their own paths to success.

LAURA HUANG

Laura Huang is an associate professor at Harvard Business School and the author of the forthcoming book “Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage,” (Portfolio-Penguin, January 2020).