One thing HR can learn from the playground

Let’s observe children at a playground. It’s all about fun and activity, but there’s something special about it…


Children are naive and innocent. They represent human behavior pretty well in its innate state, before society starts imposing all kinds of restrictions and expectations upon them (as Freud would say, the Super Ego).

Let’s take a walk to our neighborhood playground and look at how children interact with one another.

At the playground, you might find a group of children sitting together chatting. More often that not, these kids will be boasting to one another about how they are the first in their group to beat the Elite Four in the latest Pokemon release. Put them in a group and it becomes a little debate. One might argue that using high level Pokemons are the best; another might say to use certain types of Pokemon. It goes on and on. At the side, a few others who might be stuck at the point of the game would then ask for advice from others who have completed them.

This is learning in its natural state. One child is learning from another because he wants to accomplish a goal which has been achieved by the latter. You might ask, what does the teacher gain from it? It’s simply that children who can command the attention and favor of others naturally feel good and respected, which is a social and natural reinforcement in itself. As a kid, imagine if you were considered the master or pro in a game you love (Pokemon in this case), that is the greatest thing in the world to you at that point in time.

Of course, in its natural state it seems a bit chaotic and inefficient. The kid trying to beat the Elite Four might have to try 3 different strategies from 3 other kids who think “my method is the best!” He has to go back and try one strategy, and if it does not work for him, try the next one until one of it works. At the same time, he might be processing the rationale of the strategy – which part of it seems to work, which does not, what can be tweaked. In the end, it might be a blend of different strategies and his own ideas.

You might say, now with the Internet you can go online and search for any information you want! You could follow a guide that has been honed to perfection and complete the game within 3 hours! Why waste so much time trying different things?

Sure, for many problems that are well known and well explored, we can always do that. However, in many contexts, problem solving and decision making is just not that simple. In your daily work, how many issues can you just fix with a search or using a guide? Unless you work in a factory, today’s economy need less of people who can just follow the manual, but more talent who can solve problems ingeniously; talent who are keen in identifying bottlenecks, sticking points and innovating to these issues.

Here’s the clincher — it’s likely that most of these younger talents are not satisfied and perform worse with sitting down and working at a desk without any form of social engagement. It is a call for organizations to allow organic learning and growth for talents because they are motivated to do so.

Let us go back earlier in the post. Imagine for a moment if we are able to take a bit of that playground magic, and cultivate your employees into inquisitive, curious learners that are both willing teachers and learners for one another. A culture where people still respect one another, but there is also honest feedback and social encouragement. You no longer have to doggedly harass your talents to “Fill in this quarter’s learning survey”, “Attend this sales course, if not…”, “Complete your elearning courses!” Isn’t that wonderful?

How should we cultivate this culture of natural inquisitiveness in our organization?

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