His plan was better. So much better in fact because he did not actually have one.
The “he” is my 4-year-old son Nikola. Just like every other kid his age, he is a creative genius and I am a big fan only trying to catch up.
Last Friday, he took on the mission to claim every piece of furniture lying around the living room and repurpose them into building a castle, his castle.
Seeing such a drive in re-arranging blankets on top of chairs and tables, over and over again, so that the right ceiling height, his height, could be reached, was quite an experience for us, simple peasants not allowed near the construction site.
Occasionally fending off the dragon attacking his castle, his 9-month-old brother Luka, we observed him being engaged, passionate and proud in building his master piece, coming up with innovative ideas to raise the height of the ceiling by, for instance, piling up pillows.
The result and the satisfaction on his face was such that we allowed the ephemeral castle to survive past bedtime and stay intact far into the next day.
Going through breakfast with a limited set of chairs, while having guests at home, was a truly humbling experience, which we managed nonetheless given the threats coming from the Lord in his emergent structure.
Later that day, a planned trip to a famous Swedish furniture store brought Nikola and I face to face with a castle-like tent which could be assembled in no-time. Sure enough he threw himself into it, claiming for a moment his new winter residence.
Without even him asking and with the prospect of getting my living room back, I proposed to buy it, sure enough he agreed.
Once home with the foldable fortress, I started assembling it right away together with my recently knighted son and a curious dragon watching over us from his high chair.
Soon after completion, we de-assembled the formerly forbidden palace, claimed back the space and Nikola disappeared into his new Kingdom.
But it was different, my wife was quick to notice, he was playing in it, dragging his toys in it, but it was not his. The pride he had in keeping his former castle standing, improving it, adding features to it, was not there anymore.
It became one of his toys as opposed to one of his creations. If anything I was the one defending the edifice from his assault, while he once acted as a one man army to protect his former home.
I was quite puzzled and felt guilty that I took such an initiative away from him and replaced it by a predefined blueprint for play.
As the late Professor Seymour Papert’s research on constructionism shows, learning does happen most effectively when children (or adults) are active in making physical objects in the real world.
While I missed an opportunity this time, I will surely encourage all the future ones.
As I reflect on this situation, while preparing the business week ahead, I wonder how do these learnings apply to our daily work.
How often do we take away opportunities from our teams of dedicated colleagues to truly learn by doing, or even better by making?
Not necessarily going into the make or buy discussion, which can easily wake the rarely sleeping “not invented here” syndrome, I wonder how many opportunities we might miss by heading for a proven, solid, yet not necessarily innovative or differentiating solution.
Clearly my son’s castle was less stable than the retail one, hardly marketable or maintainable, but it was a far better investment in him and in his next creations.
Have you ever faced such a situation in and/or out of work? Please share in the comment.