Learn how to listen. It took me a long time to be open-minded enough to actively listen. On big projects, I had to learn to leave my ego at the door… but not my confidence. This tuned-in approach allows me to shape the vision to the need rather than trying to change the need to fit the vision which never works!
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Jerome.
Kate Jerome is a seasoned publishing executive and award-winning children’s book author who has been positively influencing younger generations for decades. Kate’s vision for Little Bridges grew out of her experience at Stanford University’s Distinguished Careers Institute. During her year-long residency, Kate’s affiliation with Stanford’s Center on Longevity immersed her in the research which now informs her work. As an intergenerational product innovator, Kate turns theory into practice by developing books and activities that encourage connections and meaningful conversations between kids and their favorite adults.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path has been so diverse it could never have been anticipated by normal means, so I give my family …especially my three rowdy, wonderful brothers…enormous credit for helping me develop the basic skills (curiosity, resiliency, sense of humor, openness to opportunities) that have always served me so well. Our parents and extended family were very social and I was always mesmerized by the family stories that were so lovingly, and sometimes hilariously, told around the dinner table. Young or old, we all participated so it was natural for me to gain an appreciation of one generation affecting the other.
Probably my favorite personal story of generational impact had to do with my grandmother. When we learned she was dying of breast cancer, all ten teenage grandchildren gathered in her tiny apartment to lend support. I remember we sat packed around her chair as she cheerfully went around the group to predict our future occupations that she knew she would never live to see.
At first, she moved quickly through the group. Doctor. Lawyer. Architect. But when Nana got to me — she paused. I remember feeling frozen in time. With mounting dread, I wondered if I was the unredeemable kid of the family. But Nana’s pause was purposeful. I could tell by the way she looked at me that she really wanted me to understand what she was about to say.
“Katie,” she said looking me directly in the eyes, “you are the one who will be anything you want to be.”
To this day, I remember the impact of those words sinking deeply into my soul. In a single phrase, she conveyed her absolute conviction that my innate talents were rich enough to continually shape my life in any powerful way I would choose — and for the first time in my life — I believed it, too.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Starting an entrepreneurial venture (Little Bridges™) has been exhausting work and I’ve often felt there are not enough hours in the day. But over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate to continue my mentoring role through Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute and every time I think I have no more to give, another young person convinces me that I’m wrong. I’m particularly thrilled with all the young women who are seeking counsel. They have this incredible skill, energy, presence, and empathy. Far from benefitting just them, our conversations continually energize me and inspire me to do and give more!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Although it wasn’t really a mistake, a humorous incident did occur when I was first starting my 2015 Fellowship in the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute program. I had signed up for a course at the revered Graduate School of Business and I was a bit nervous about it. Did I still have the intellectual chops to keep up with all the brilliant Stanford students? And how would they react to someone my age participating in the class with them? I arrived a bit early the first day and was immediately relieved when multiple students approached me to talk. I was cheerfully thinking…wow…this is great…they are almost lining up to see me. Then it hit me. Duh. They WERE lining up to see me…but only because, as the senior person in the room, they thought I was the professor. A brief explanation put things to right and we all had a good laugh. The additional happy ending was the initial stereotyping quickly gave way to mutual respect and genuine camaraderie leading to a great class!
Ok fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about Little Bridges?
Little Bridges is the culmination of a lifetime of work. I learned a lot about developing the most successful tools for teachers and students through all my years in educational publishing. Then when I did my Fellowship at Stanford, I started thinking about the need for intergenerational products in the home environment. My business partner, Raoul Goff, who is CEO of Insight Editions, is an expert in developing quality products in different formats, so we decided to team our expertise to produce activity kits that serve as tools to inspire meaningful conversations.
What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company (Little Bridges)? How do you think you are helping people or society?
Our mission at Little Bridges is simple. We want to inspire meaningful conversations, connections, and delightful legacy moments between kids and their favorite adults.
Because of changing demographics (for the first time in history there are more adults 50+ than children under 18), inter generational connections are particularly important these days. And research tells us they benefit both ends of the spectrum. Older adults provide emotional support and a sense of worth that children need. In turn, younger people provide a sense of purpose and relevance that older people crave.
Tell us about your debut product “Grandma & Me: In the Kitchen” and what our audience can expect.
Grandma & Me: In the Kitchen is a cooking themed activity kit that is intentionally designed to bring out interesting conversations about family and legacy. In includes a special grandma/grandchild storybook to read together, then there are keepsakes to make. A potholder with fabric paint to outline your grandchild’s hand print for Grandma and a child-sized apron with a special personalized message for your grandchild. Another unique treasure comes in the form of the one-of-a-kind recipe activity journal where Grandma responds to journal prompts to tell the treasured stories behind the favorite recipes that she records. Our next activity kit will allow Grandmas and Grandchildren to Explore the Outdoors…and Grandfather kits aren’t far behind!
What is the importance and relevance of passing down family traditions, especially holiday traditions?
Traditions help children understand family culture and values. It gives them a sense of belonging and can help them define their own moral code. Experiencing and creating traditions at holiday time can give kids a sense of stability as they re-occur each year.
How does Little Bridges build generational bonds?
Conversations are the key. We talk to children all the time about the practical things. Did you do your homework? Did you brush your teeth? But it’s harder to find the time to speak of more profound topics. Do you know the stories behind our family’s cherished traditions? Who are your heroes, etc.?
That’s where the Little Bridges kits come in. The activities are intentionally designed to provide openings for deeper conversations. Sharing fun activities gets the connection going…and before you know it, more meaningful conversations begin to emerge.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I had a friend who felt she just couldn’t get through to her 13-year-old grandson anymore. Every attempt at conversation seemed to end with one word answers then silence. So, I suggested she invite him to walk with her after dark. I told her to let him handle the flashlight and she shouldn’t try to rush the conversation but gave her a few ideas of what topics to try. In the dark, with no need for direct eye contact, her grandson began to loosen up. Soon enough, they were both sharing again. Even my friend felt more comfortable telling stories in the dark. It became a nightly tradition and strengthened their relationship. To this day, they still look forward to the nighttime “walk and talks” and my friend is extremely grateful for my support in helping her find a way to keep those meaningful conversations going.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I actually have four things that I wish someone had told me:
- Learn how to listen. It took me a long time to be open-minded enough to actively listen. On big projects, I had to learn to leave my ego at the door… but not my confidence. This tuned-in approach allows me to shape the vision to the need rather than trying to change the need to fit the vision (which never works! ☺)
- Good managers don’t just lead, they inspire. I constantly have to ask people to work harder and smarter on tight deadlines. The ones who do it most willingly and successfully are those who are inspired not by the request to work harder but by our shared belief in the value of what we will accomplish.
- Attitude is way more important than you think. When I eventually learned that problems meant progress, I started embracing the notion of getting up every day with a “bring it on” attitude rather than an “Oh, now what?” thought process. This change in attitude made my long workdays become way more tolerable. I now ask myself every morning what the five most important problems are to solve by day’s end and I’m really excited to tackle them. This attitude infuses energy in others, too…and work becomes more of a challenge than a chore.
- Never take yourself too seriously. I love to find the humor in things…even if it’s at my own expense. Being around kids helps…they tend to keep me humble!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Over my many years in children’s publishing, I’ve come to believe that although reading opens many doors for kids, it’s conversations that give them the courage to go through them. I daydream about building a “Conversations with Kate” program where I gather kids in the backyard and guide them through a custom literacy, language and conversation program that not only informs but inspires new thinking. Think of how many kids could be positively influenced if all the retired teachers and librarians in the country agreed to model the course!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The Greek philosopher Epictetus said “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Many people have paraphrased this notion since, but I truly believe that the nature of our responses is what shapes us. Like everyone, I have suffered personal losses…some severe enough that they could have defeated me. But in every case, I knew my response, and not the circumstance, would define me. That idea has allowed me to reject victimhood and cynicism in favor of optimism and growth.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I actually would love to have a conversation with Goldie Hawn. I particularly admire her outspoken dedication to her family and her commitment to developing mindfulness in children. She strikes me as one who really “gets” what matters and that’s what Little Bridges is all about.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m writing resource material at www.littlebridges.com
My personal website is www.katejerome.com
Amazon Kate Jerome Author Page: