Tell the Adult You to Shut Up! The Kids are Talking.

by: Phillipe Charles

How would you be spending this moment right now if you were 5 years old? 10 years old? Would you be playing dress-up? Cops and robbers? Perhaps you’d be drawing a colorful picture, or building an architectural masterpiece out of Legos. But you likely wouldn’t be bogged down by responsibility and stress. You probably wouldn’t be tracking your business KPIs or trying to please an unhappy customer. Rather, as a kid, you were free to dream up new possibilities, build things, and color outside of the lines.

And yet, as we get older, these child-like tendencies become secondary to finances, work responsibilities, and relationship woes. In business, we become slaves to routine and convention, suppressing our natural playfulness and inhibiting imagination in exchange for what we tell ourselves is greater productivity. But studies show that playful people are less stressed and perform higher academically.

In nature, young members of a species often play to learn skills that will benefit them in adulthood.

As individuals, we should find and protect times in our schedule to be creative. As teams, we should regularly devote entire meetings to asking questions, brainstorming, and dreaming up new opportunities.

This blog post was inspired by a series of events that happened last Tuesday. First, my American Underground team discussed harnessing our child-like imagination in a motivating brainstorming session. Then, I got an invitation to Durham Nativity School’s “Daring to Dream Big” event. Finally, the previous two occurrences reminded me of a song (Through The Eyes of a Kid) that I wrote, inspired by my niece Maya’s original melody and lyrics. (Listen below.)

Ok, now that you’ve stepped into my thought process and I’ve shamelessly plugged my song, here are some traits I’ve found kids to be especially good at, and some ideas on how you can apply these concepts to make a more innovative business.

Kids are dreamers

They see possibility in everything. One minute they’re astronauts in space, the next they’re sprinting cheetahs. They paint the world how they want and are unburdened by how things are “supposed to be.” Their child-like imagination and optimism take precedent to the concept of limitations.

Try it: Devote an entire team meeting to discussing new possibilities for your business. Don’t focus on logistics. Don’t begin to entertain whether or not the idea is possible. Just answer the question: It would be amazing if we could [fill in the blank]. There’s no wrong answer.

Kids are curious

They ask questions. Unapologetically. One after the other. And while incessant questioning can quickly become tiresome to the recipient, it’s how kids learn. It’s no different in business. We must remain in a constant state of curiosity in order to learn where opportunities lie, how to be most effective, and what our customers want and need.

Try it: As a team, develop a list of questions surrounding your business that you think would be worth knowing. The list shouldn’t be about just one thing, but rather should span across all parts of your business. Ask questions about your website, stakeholders, competitors, marketing practices, financial models, or whatever else makes sense. Now, divide those questions up amongst your team and empower them to find the answers. Search the Internet, look in books, ask thought leaders, colleagues, or friends. You can even talk to strangers, you’re an adult now!

Kids are resourceful

As adults, we sometimes feel like we can’t progress until we acquire some missing element — a new piece of software, a new degree, or a different tool. While any of these things can be helpful and make life easier, we are far more resourceful than we give ourselves credit for. As kids, we rarely had our own money for new things and (if you were like me) had parents with stingy pockets. But still, we found ways to create. In fact, the lack of tools probably made us even more inventive. I remember using shoeboxes and toilet paper rolls to make secret hideouts and tunnels for my action figures. Or collecting pen parts to design my own working pen gun, complete with pen cap missiles. “Figuring it out” was something we naturally did then, and can still do now.

Try it: Consider something you aren’t doing because you think you don’t have everything you need. If you can’t easily access the missing elements, spend time getting to the heart of what you are actually trying to accomplish in the first place. What are other ways to get to the same place (or at least a similar place?) Now, go! It may not be as glamorous, but you’ll be better off than if you did nothing. Down the road, you may find out that you never really needed the thing you thought you did.

Kids are tolerant

Now certainly we’ve seen instances where kids can be mean or offensive, but I believe that before being indoctrinated by imposed prejudices, kids are often more willing to accept someone new than we are as adults. If they see differences, they don’t necessarily see them as threats or associate them with superiority or inferiority. As a result, kids benefit from learning from a broader pool of influences. Our business-selves could stand to learn a few things here. Not just because it’s decent, but because it’s now common knowledge that diversity creates a more fertile ground for good ideas to spring from.

Try it: Seek out and embrace a diverse team. Don’t rule out anyone as a potential source for a good idea. And most importantly, don’t be a bigot. I shouldn’t have to say that, but I do.

Kids are fearless

Sure they fear the dark and monsters in the closet. But fear of failure and mistakes have hardly begun to infiltrate their thinking. They sing off-key and dance off-beat because they aren’t afraid of looking stupid. And while fear is sometimes valid and keeps us safe, it often has the adverse effect of keeping us from being great. It’s even worse when the consequences of what we fear are not nearly as dire as we’ve allowed ourselves to believe.

Try it: I’m not going to tell you to fearlessly make a risky business decision because I don’t want to be responsible for a marketing campaign like this. But think about a risk that, if successful, could move the needle for your business in a significant way. Now consider what might be the worst likely consequence if you’re unsuccessful. Is there anything to be gained from being unsuccessful? Now, if the consequences are insignificant, or are something you think your business can recover from, it may be time for a leap of faith!