Episode 34: Using Data to Raise Leaders with Emily Oster

November 1, 2021



My guest today is Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University, and a writer of books on pregnancy and parenting: The Family Firm, Cribsheet and Expecting Better. Our conversation today is all about the power of giving your kids the space to make their own choices as they develop in leadership.

Emily is speaking from both experience and from a place of science backed data. So, today’s episode is about raising Luminaries, raising leaders, giving your kids the space to develop and grow based on actual science.


[3:39] Empowering with Data

As a professor of economics at Brown University, Emily does some academic work on health, healthcare and health decisions that people make. But much more of her work revolves around data in pregnancy and parenting, trying to help people work through a lot of the choices that they have to make in their pregnancy and with their kids using data. In the last 18 months, she’s been doing a huge amount of work around COVID, helping parents think about choices during the pandemic.

I feel like data is the great equalizer that brings us all on the same page and allows us to look objectively at what we’re dealing with. Emily’s work surrounding data focuses on the idea of empowering people with data. In her own words, it’s not that the data tells you what to do; it’s that the data tells you how to think about it, and then you decide what to do.

[9:48] Day-to-Day

Being a parent and an entrepreneur, we do our best to juggle both worlds. But I think there’s a common thread in all of us and that’s our desire, not just to parent, but to raise these well-adjusted leaders and to make choices now that will give our children the best chances later.

In Emily’s book The Family Firm, which is focused on kids going to elementary school, there are two big cornerstones:

  • Thinking deliberately about what you want your life to look like.
  • Being structured about decision making

As entrepreneurs, we usually know what we want. We want more freedom, we want connections, we want more presence, etc. But we get lost in the granular, in the day-to-day things. So, we need to be intentional about the things we want and structured in making our decisions, but also ensure that we honor that in the day-to-day – because the day-to-day is life. 

[16:05]  Overscheduling and Over-scaffolding

Two of the biggest patterns Emily has seen among well-meaning parents that ultimately don’t serve either the parent or the child are overscheduling and over-scaffolding.

Emily believes that overscheduling happens because a lot of individual activity decisions are kind of made on the margin. Meaning, we don’t think about how they intersect with all the other ones and we end up piling it up in a way that is overwhelming. 

When it comes to over-scaffolding, a lot of parents are interested in promoting independence in  their kids, but some of the choices that they make end up over-scaffolding that independence. We all want to protect our kids from hardships, it’s in our DNA, but sometimes we have to keep our mouths shut and let them learn from their mistakes. And it’s hard. 

[26:46] More Relaxed Parenting

In her other book Cribsheet, Emily talks about more relaxed parenting. She believes that some substantial portion of our parenting anxiety arises from the constant second guessing. What happens when people tell you that you’re doing it wrong? 

Emily explains that if you are confident about having made a certain choice and if you also recognize that other people’s choices are not your choices, it is easier to have those conversations not provoke that restless anxiety that is common.

[29:17] Find What Works Best for Your Family 

Health has always been one of my family’s core values. For a lot of us, health overlaps with the idea of creating a healthy diet. According to Emily, there is not one right way to do this. You need to find what works best for your family and your kids, you need to give it your own personal and family definition of what that looks like. Understanding what that means and really defining that is a critical piece. And it’s not going to be the same for everybody.

[33:52] Your Kid is Not You

For us, leadership is an opportunity of fostering independence, but also helping our kids tap into who they’re called to be individually and really supporting them in that growth process and helping them identify the sparks along the way, areas of our child that we can really help develop versus expecting them to be perfectly well-rounded in every single thing ever. For help in identifying your child’s sparks, download our free guide here!

Spending more time at home with her kids over the past 18 months, led Emily to a recognition that your kid is not you and that as they get older, they’re going to be good at things that are different from the things that you are good at and it’s hard to pick out those things along the way. But it is so important to scaffold that, both emotionally and practically, looking for opportunities for your kids to feel like they are achieving something and they are good at something.


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