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Ridiculously Successful People Turn Work Into Play

We live in a rapidly changing business world. It’s virtually impossible to predict how things will look even five years from now.

Ken Robinson believes that creativity is at least as important as intellect in navigating an evolving environment.

According to Ken Robinson, our creativity is innate but it gets educated out of us.

So are we really prepared to embrace the speed of change when most of us were sold on the idea that intellectual prowess was the holy grail?

Perhaps our kids could show us a thing or two about creativity that we have forgotten.

So, how do children approach the world and what can we learn from them?

It’s a bright Saturday afternoon in spring 1994. I’m sitting in the back office of B&Q DIY’s flagship store in Fareham (UK). I’m interviewing the store’s interior designer, Emma, as research for my Marketing Master’s Dissertation.

Meanwhile, my eight-year-old son, Ryan, is swinging his legs as he sits listening to us jabbering on. He’s bored. Soon he slips off quietly and wanders around the store.

He’s gone for what seems an age and I’m beginning to wonder what he’s up to.

Suddenly he bursts into the back office full of excitement. “Mum”, he says, “there’s a colouring competition for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the store — I’m going to colour.” He’s carrying a pack with outline drawings of wild animals and a small box of colouring pencils, a sales assistant gave him.

“Great!” I say — relieved he’s occupying himself and not up to mischief.

Ryan disappears again and returns even more excited than before. “Mum”, he says, “I’ve shown my drawings to the people who work here and asked them if I’m going to win the competition.”

What did they say? I asked. “Maybe — they said — maybe. Do you think I’ll win Mum?” Eyes wide open and twinkling.

My heart sinks — on two counts. Firstly, he’s probably driving these busy people crazy. Secondly, I’m worried for him. I anticipate how disappointed he’ll feel if he doesn’t win. He’s setting himself up for pain.

“Oh well darling, you’ll just have to wait and see”, I tell him.

Ryan doesn’t bat an eyelid. He’s eager to play the game. He has none of my concerns.

The competition winners are due to be announced at 3.30 pm. Ryan comes to get me and fortunately my interview with Emma has finished.

We stroll over to join a small gathering. British DJ, Zoe Ball, is in the store to announce the winner and runners-up and present the award.

My stomach churns, fearing Ryan might not win and be so disappointed.

Ryan is full of beans.

Zoe Ball announces the first runner-up. It’s not Ryan. One chance is gone. And my heart sinks.

Zoe Ball announces the second runner-up. It’s not Ryan. Two chances are gone. And my heart plummets.

I’m so full of butterflies, my stomach is fluttering — almost visibly.

Zoe Ball clears her throat to announce the winner.

And the winner is…


I could cry. I’m so relieved and thrilled for him.

By now, you’re probably thinking — what? Are you nuts? It’s a kids’ colouring competition, for goodness sake. He’s not competing in the Olympics.

Ryan is lit up with a huge smile.

Zoe Ball holds Ryan’s colouring of an elephant’s head — in blue with a band of purple down the left hand-side. “I love the way you’ve done this purple shading Ryan,” she says.

Before we know it Ryan and I are being manoeuvred to have our photograph taken for Fareham’s local newspaper.

We leave the store and make our way back to London by train. We’re sitting comfortably chatting about the day’s adventure.

Ryan leans towards me and whispers in a matter of fact tone. “Mum, that purple wasn’t shading.”

“No?” I say

“No”, he says.

“I just ran out of blue.”

By now my heart is bursting and I’m laughing at the innocence of this child who;

  1. Got curious
  2. Engaged people
  3. Involved himself — for fun
  4. Created lots of pictures
  5. Showed his enthusiasm to everyone
  6. Switched tactics seamlessly
  7. Played with no thought of failure

But Ryan wasn’t unusual. That’s what kids do — given the slightest opportunity. And they enjoy themselves. If they don’t win they’re disappointed — for ten minutes — but rapidly move onto the next thing that looks like fun.

Kids live fully. They dive into whatever is in right in front of them.

What did I do?

  1. Fret — he might be bothering busy people
  2. Cautioned him not to get his hopes up
  3. Worried about the risk of him being disappointed


I sandbagged — to protect him.

As adults, we learn to sandbag a lot — even when we don’t think we’re sandbagging. We spend heaps of our precious time and energy managing a future that hasn’t yet happened. And we allow the present moment to slip by with a fraction of our attention.

In 2006 Ken Robinson gave the most watched TED Talk ever. Do Schools Kill Creativity? He pointed out that schools across the globe focus on building a child’s intellect with maths and languages and devalue creativity and movement. Art, music and dance get relegated to second best in education.

Ken Robinson suggests with the world changing rapidly and unpredictably, creativity and movement are as essential as intellectual learning. We’re all born with natural creativity but using it fully gets educated out of us.

Our creative nature is always there but remains largely untapped as we get older.

Ian McGilchrist, philosopher and psychiatrist and author of The Master & His Emissary talks about how we have become left-brain dominant.

We get stuck in the nitty-gritty.

It leaves us less open-minded, curious and creative which are properties of the right brain. We end up leading with our analytical brains calling only occasionally on our powerful creative minds.

Your thinking brain is a blunt problem-solving instrument in comparison to your creative self which generates a constant stream of fresh insights and ideas.

Every other day I meet people in business who are caught up in analysis paralysis. The enthusiastic wide-eyed twinkle they once had has turned into an exhausted lack of lustre or even a defensive glare.

It’s hard to avoid getting hooked by the political shenanigans that can lead to stress and tension. As the old adage about boiling a frog goes — before you realise you’re in hot water, you’re already cooked.

You play more often in the defender position as time goes by. And you take on the cultural story — work is stressful and life is hard.

So how can things be different?

Cultivating playfulness and being more childlike could be the answer.

Perhaps the dawning recognition of the limitations of figuring everything out in our intellects is behind the resurgence of storytelling in business. Storytelling is a creative tool. It shifts people out of their analytical mindset. It opens them to their creativity and playfulness. The twinkle returns along with a fresh gush of problem-solving ideas.

In his Huffington Post article, How Ridiculously Successful People Think Differently, Travis Bradbury cites ten differences of the ridiculously successful — (presumably vs those who are moderately successful.) The ten traits sound more like the way children live than most adults do.

Ridiculously successful people turn tedious tasks into games.

But why would you only turn the tedious tasks into games?

Why not make all work less tense and more playful?

Tension isn’t a resourceful state. Playfulness is a high energy, way of being. You can be much more productive when you’re playful than when you’re caught up in stress and tension.

Children play fearlessly. They;

1. Engage people

2. Get fully involved

3. Risk failure

4. Tidy up their mess (at least when they’re reminded)

5. Love creating, telling and listening to stories

So, is playfulness a leadership skill? Could lightening-up by even 10 percent make you more joyful and successful? Would you be prepared to give it a go — today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on being more childlike in business and playfulness as a leadership skill.

If you’ve reached here — great — thanks for reading the article. Please COMMENT and SHARE on LINKEDIN, FACEBOOK & TWITTER.

Special thanks to B&Q who were amazing on that day and in supporting my dissertation (Disclaimer: They have no involvement whatsoever in this article)

About the Author:

Claire Taylor is a co-founder of The Story Mill and author of The Tao of Storytelling.

About The Story Mill:

At The Story Mill, we believe that every business problem can be resolved by connecting people. We help organisations to build better chemistry, be that in leadership, within teams or selling to your customers. We work with live, written, visual and video storytelling.

Download your copy of The 12 Secrets to Influencing With Story you can do that here now.

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