She Calls it a Wiper Blade

My 4-year-old granddaughter and I approach the entrance to our community, which is similar to this picture. When the crossing arm goes up to let us through, Cece calls it a wiper blade.

Mental Models

In his book A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger refers to neurologist Stewart Mostofsky’s term mental models. Speaking of children, Warren goes onto to say, “…they have not yet developed mental models to categorize things, so part of what they’re doing when questioning is asking adults to help them with this huge job of categorizing what they experience around them…”

A 4-year-old sees a big wiper blade, an adult sees a crossing arm. In our haste to correct and categorize, do we really take the time to appreciate what children see?

Early on in a child’s education, mainstream school begins to inhibit their creativity. It continues on to the point where snuffed out, eradicated and obliterated are better descriptors than inhibit. You’ve heard some version of this or other.

Designers, creative folk and those who innovate for a living tell us we need to tap into our inner child. In order to better create and innovate we need to see the world through children’s eyes.

Our mental models are so rutted into our brain’s neural pathways however, that instead of trying to claw our way up the smooth and deep channel walls, maybe we’d be better off enlisting the help of experts.

4-Year-old Guides

In the chapter, “The Why, What if, and How of Innovative Questioning” of A More Beautiful Question, a chapter which is worth the price of the book alone, Warren outlines a process designed to show us how to look at the world as a child would.

Pragmatics 101 tell us that Warren is spot on.

Imagination 101 tells us to hold off taking Pragmatics until our senior year.

While we can’t as Warren says, have a 4-year-old constantly accompany us, we can nonetheless tap into their fresh and unfiltered view of the world.

So, the next time a little people person proceeds to give you their assessment of what is, don’t be so quick to correct and categorize. See what they see. Ask them about it and listen. Take notes.

Or, should you feel ambitious, take your quest to the streets. Gather a pack of 4-year-old’s, bring their parents and go to a science museum, mall or the zoo. Your mission (and the parents) is to see what they see. Ask questions, listen and take notes.

Speaking of the zoo. What do you suppose a 4-year old’s assessment of a session of U.S. Congress would be? Talk about a deeply rutted neural pathway! Seriously, the depth or rather bottomless void of that neural pathway is exactly why we should listen to kids and strive for fresh perspectives.

We Graduate

Of course we can’t go through life with a 4-year-old guide. Well wait a minute, can we? What if the 4-year-old sat in a half circle of computer screens and was connected to you by audio and video — she sees what you see. She could guide you…

In the end, Warren Berger makes sense. We should learn how to see the world like a 4-year-old. Still, never pass up a good road trip with a 4-year-old and always carry a camera and note pad. There’s nothing like the help of an expert to broaden, deepen and expand our mental models.

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