Resourcefulness: Why It’s Needed, Why It’s Hard for Kids


Is it true that the more resources we have, the less resourceful we tend to be? Dr. Tim Elmore explains why today's parents must cultivate resourcefulness and accountability in their kids.

A university faculty member shared a recent conversation she had with a student. After failing an exam, her student approached her to negotiate the grade. This is nothing new. What was new was the student’s complaints:

  • “You didn’t give us enough time. The test was way too long.”
  • “Why didn’t you tell us the exam was comprehensive?”
  • “We didn’t have sufficient tutors available!”
  • “This test was too hard for an undergraduate course.”

The student complained so much, the faculty member began to question her teaching skills. Then, however, she remembered that in the course of her 27 years as an instructor, at no other time had any student so absolutely rejected responsibility for his or her grade.

Becoming Resourceful

In 2005, Bradford Smart wrote a book called Top Grading. In it, Smart says that resourcefulness is the new “meta” competency people must possess. Think about it. Because information is ubiquitous, people no longer need to know a lot. Information is readily available. You can search and find answers to almost any problem if you know where to look. That’s why the virtue of “resourcefulness” is now the most important skill to teach and hire. Whether it’s students in school or team members on the job—we need people who know how to find answers, ones who can identify and solve problems because they can find solutions that are not fast or convenient. Instead of complaining about hard tests, they get creative and gritty… and thrive.

Herein lies our problem.

We, the adult population, have taken pride in resourcing our kids in every way. We have worked to make their lives safe, convenient and happy. It’s natural to do so. We’ve given them helmets and knee pads, smart phones and tablets, comfort food, praise and trophies just for being “you.” The challenge is this:

The more resources we have, the less resourceful we tend to become.

Consider the principle above. When I have a lot of “stuff” I don’t have to be resourceful. I always have enough. I don’t have to get creative—it’s all been done for me. My video game cheat sheet tells me how to win; my Lego play set tells me what to build and how to build it; my teacher spoon feeds me the answers before the big test; my mom does all my cooking, driving and cleaning; and my Monopoly game has even removed the “Go To Jail” card because I don’t want to waste time in jail when I want to play the game. This is a picture of middle class America today.

Do you know why our grandparents came from such a resourceful generation? Because many of them lived through the “Great Depression.” They had to be. They saved their money instead of spending it; they didn’t dispose of uneaten food so they’d have leftovers for tomorrow; they wore shoes and drove cars until they were no longer able to transport them any more. It was function over form. Today, we pride ourselves in the very opposite. If my clothes or car doesn’t look new—I want a new one. Ugh.

Make It a Game or a Challenge

So, here’s the big question: as caring adults in the lives of our students, how do we continue to provide for and resource our kids—while at the same time, cultivate resourcefulness inside of them?

Try this. What if we made this whole thing a game? What if we talked about resourcefulness with our students, and then once a week, created a challenge where we removed the normal “resources” at their disposal; we imagined that we were on an island with very few conveniences and had to make things happen with our grit and ingenuity? Think Jack Shepherd or John Locke on the TV show, “Lost.”

There are private schools—nontraditional schools—that now take students out into the woods for an entire day and teach them to survive with nothing but a knife. You may think this is a bit of an extreme, and perhaps it is, but I can guarantee one thing. The students in that course are more marketable to a future employer because they have developed the meta-competency: resourcefulness.

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