How business books help me bond with my teen

My son Anton is 13 years old. In the parlance of The Walking Dead, he could ‘turn’ at any moment. The more time he spends on tech, in his room, and out of the house, the more the quality of our interactions count.

So I mindfully engage. Driving to hockey, on an errand, or having breakfast, I’ll say, got one. And, suddenly, he’s all ears. Experience has taught him my story will be worth hearing.

Where do I get my material? From the best brains in the business.

While providing inspirational grist for my own mill (brand development), the business and marketing books on my shelf have become a trove of anecdotes, insights and conversation starters, each more random and captivating than the next to my teen.

Think Like A Freak (Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner) has sparked conversations about how to win a hot dog eating contest (it’s not about how fast you chew), why terrorists shouldn’t buy life insurance, and the business reason why heavy metal legend Eddie Van Halen demanded there be M&Ms – but absolutely no brown ones – in the band’s trailer.

From Made to Stick (Chip Heath and Dan Heath), Anton learned how the movie concept for Alien was pitched and sold to Hollywood in three words (Jaws. In. Space.) The Heath Bros also came through with a meaningful answer to the age-old questions: Why do I need to know algebra and when will I ever use it?

The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg), which suggests willpower becomes a habit by choosing a certain routine ahead of time and then following it when an inflection point arrives, got Anton and I talking about building good homework habits. Just kidding. But he was interested in how Tony Dungy bucked Tampa Bay’s losing streak by taking all the decision-making out of the team’s game. And how radio stations can transform a song few would consciously admit to liking (like Celine Dion’s Titanic anthem) into a ‘sticky’ hit no one flips channels on.

My bonding efforts came full circle when, flying home from our trip to Mexico, Anton looked up from the history book he was reading about tyrants. “Mom. When your friends ask about our vacation, maybe you can use this to make it sound more interesting.” He then went on to tell me about Hernán Cortés, the Spanish nobleman who conquered the Aztec empire with only 500 soldiers. And suddenly, I was all ears.

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