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Want To Raise a Millionaire Innovator? Science Says Do This 1 Thing

Natural talent is great, but it needs the right nurturing and inspiration.

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BY Erik Sherman - 06 Dec 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Are your kids sharp? Want them to have a future in innovation and invention? A new extensive study says that those at the top can eventually make as much as $1 million a year, but there's a catch.

It's not enough to be good at math and science. Showing early signs of drive and success also may not be enough. Just as you can help your children to be mentally healthy and happy in their formative years, you can also increase their chances of being one of the innovators who might change the world.

Researchers from Harvard, Stanford, the London School of Economic, MIT, and the U.S. Treasury studied the lives of more than one million inventors in the U.S. using a previously unavailable database of de-identified tax and school records. They found that environment is critical in a particular way.

Once you get beyond family background, income, and similar factors that make a huge difference in educational opportunity and success, "exposure to innovation substantially increases the chances that children become inventors."

Children who grow up in areas with more inventors - and are thereby more exposed to innovation while growing up - are much more likely to become inventors themselves. Exposure influences not just whether a child grows up to become an inventor but also the type of inventions he or she produces. For example, among people living in Boston, those who grew up in Silicon Valley are especially likely to patent in computers, while those who grew up in Minneapolis - which has many medical device manufacturers - are especially likely to patent in medical devices. Similarly, children whose parents hold patents in a certain technology class (e.g., amplifiers) are more likely to patent in exactly that field themselves rather than in other closely related fields (e.g., antennas).

In other words, we effectively recreate the old practice of families raising their children to learn the occupations of their parents and eventually to take over their businesses. You gain an affinity for that which is familiar.

Those who get the exposure increase their chances of being interested and, ultimately, successful in similar areas. And for those who are at the top of the game, the financial rewards are significant. The most successful inventors -- the class of innovator covered in the study -- make $1 million or more a year.

But you can't leave the exposure to chance. Kids need contact with innovators, hear discussion of innovation within the family, be exposed to media and entertainment that emphasize innovation, and otherwise come in contact with the subject on a regular basis.

Don't think that programs during the summer will suffice. Encourage them to invent even when young. Let them come up with new "solutions," whether that might be a new recipe, an imagined new type of product, or a device that could help around the house. Find them mentors who could help.

The more you get children connected with the process of invention, the more they will take it on as part of themselves.

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