A new book by Andrew McAfee entitled “The Geek Way: The Radical Mindset that Drives Extraordinary Results” (with a foreword by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn) argues how a bunch of geeks built some of the most attractive companies today—think Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and others— by iterating and experimenting their way into a set of practices and philosophies that not only enable innovation and execution, but also promote empowerment and autonomy in their people.

The author makes the assertion that what makes these companies and their cultures so radically different from the mainstream is that their founders were given a great gift by their parents at an early age. Their parents let them become part of an organization that was started by someone McAfee fondly refers to as the “patron saint of geeks”— none other than Dr. Maria Montessori.

He cites several examples of founders and entrepreneurs, himself included, and their experience of going through Montessori as children and the profound impact that has had on their lives as adults. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“In 2004, journalist Barbara Walters interviewed Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Both of them had parents who were professors and scientists, and Walters asked if this family background was an important part of their success. But both Brin and Page highlighted something else. As Page put it, ‘We both went to Montessori school, and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently.’” 

Andrew McAfee, who is the co-founder and co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and the inaugural visiting fellow in Google’s Technology and Society Group, goes on to write that Maria Montessori is a hero of today’s business geeks, who are building great enterprises that are transforming our lives with their products and services, for three reasons:

“First, she was a true geek herself. She immersed herself in a tough and important problem— how do children learn best— devised unconventional solutions, and then advocated tirelessly for them.

“Second, her educational methods foster the kinds of innovation and creativity that contribute to success in the business world. After surveying more than 500 professionals, management researchers Hal Gregerson and Jeff Dyer were surprised at how many started off in Montessori schools. This research revealed the importance of curiosity and asking lots of questions. As Gregerson put it,

‘If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work… We believe that the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged… A number of them went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity.’

“Third, and most important, Maria Montessori showed us something joyous: This can be better. We don’t have to keep educating young children the same way… If we give schoolchildren great autonomy, we won’t be sacrificing their ability to master basic skills or perform well on standardized tests. They don’t need to be told what, when, and how to study in order to make progress; they do just fine on their own.”

Having gone through Montessori from such an early age, is it then not a surprise that the geeks founding some of the world’s most admired companies are doing for their companies what Maria Montessori did for schools? It takes a lot of imagination to look at things and then reimagine how they can be better, to expose false assumptions, and most importantly have the courage to take risks to improve them for the better. As Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, once said, “Risks, I like to say, always pay off. You learn what to do or what not to do.”

A huge and growing number of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals—the Montessori Mafia as Peter Sims, author of the book “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries,” calls them—are doing more than that. By embracing Montessori principles, they are building different companies and infusing them with a radical culture suspicious of the status quo, encouraged to question, creative with utmost self-belief, and driven to innovate to find solutions to make things better.

Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the organizations of these highly admired companies, enterprises, and organizations are “a lot less hierarchical, less rigid, less rules-based, and less top-down than those they’re outpacing.” As Andrew McAfee noted, “Maria Montessori showed that children can excel without these constraints; today’s business geeks are showing that companies can as well.”

Perhaps it’s nothing more than mere coincidence that several Montessori alumni are founders or lead some of the world’s most innovative companies. Or maybe the Montessori educational approach is far from the surest path to joining the creative elite or success in business. One thing is clear, though: Dr. Maria Montessori’s gift to the world goes far beyond the classroom.

At Pearlily Montessori, we want to underscore our deep commitment to delivering the essence of an authentic Montessori education to children. Montessori education is not a rigid structure but a flexible and dynamic approach that empowers children to question, explore, and learn at their own pace. We foster an environment where curiosity is celebrated, where children are free to ask questions, discover, and create, just as the founders of some of the world’s most innovative companies did in their early Montessori years.

And just as the business leaders and entrepreneurs mentioned in McAfee’s book have shaped their industries by challenging the norm, our aim is to instill the same spirit of innovation and self-belief in children. We believe in cultivating independent thinkers who have the confidence to tackle challenges head-on and find their unique paths to success.

The Montessori way encourages children to follow their curiosity, ask questions, and think critically. It’s about nurturing not just what children learn but who they eventually become. As we continue to guide children on this incredible journey, we remain deeply committed to helping them become highly engaged citizens of the world, capable of bringing about positive change. Together, as a Montessori community, let’s work together to nurture the leaders, thinkers, and innovators of tomorrow.

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