It is something of a commentary on our society that we do all that we can to make kids stop being kids. We tell them over and over to grow up; to behave; respect authority; to behave like an adult if you want to be treated like an adult and so on. Most of these injunctions have much to recommend them on the surface. However WHEN you dig deeper and start to unpack what the eventual effect really is we may be persuaded to adopt some other tactics. The intentions are very good and are mostly aimed at helping our kids prepare themselves for the tough world they have to live in. But in the process we also ensure that they unlearn some critically important innate survival and growth behaviours.
All businesses and organisations are looking for innovative and creative people who are not frightened to explore and learn and try out new things and ideas. These are natural childhood behaviours. This is how we all learnt about the world around us without prompting, incentives or regular performance reviews. We just did it because it was the natural thing to do. And….by the way, all our friends were doing the same thing.
But parents and teachers found this behaviour a bit too disruptive so that they did their collective best to curb it. Of course some of this behaviour was simply socially unacceptable but a lot of it was what enabled humanity not only to survive but to develop and grow.
Let’s take a look at some of the most critical of these behaviours and examine which of them we should be nurtured and encouraged in our organisations today.
Perhaps the most important of these is the absence of fear of trying new things; of a sense of adventure about the world around us. We have all been there and we are what we learnt about the world then from living with this adventurous spirit. If there was something new or strange or foreign we would want to know all about IT. All those of you who have been, or are, parents will know about that age when every sentence is punctuated “But Dad, why?”, or “Mom why does it work that way?”, or “Why can’t I go there?” Why and How are big words in the pre-teen years. There is a sense of amazement and wonder at the world and desire to know everything about it. We resent being put into little boxes and our creativity and energy being stifled by others
Secondly, we are not frightened by strangers, or others, or foreigners. We learn this behaviour. Mandela famously said something like: “We are not born hating, we learn this. We are born with love in our hearts”. Kids do not know hate. They are keen to be friends with everyone. We teach them not to speak to strangers, not to accept lifts or sweets or presents or, in fact, anything from anyone we do not know. Kids naturally want to make friends and some of the biggest heartbreaks when they are little is when a friend lets them down or doesn’t want to be a friend. We get so much more done with friends who willingly collaborate than when we try to persuade strangers to do things our way. So….following the kids’ paradigm – make friends first and then have an adventure building your castle!
Kids don’t always need big expensive toys to keep them entertained. In fact oftentimes they have the most fun when they find their own entertainment often with the most basic of ‘toys’ – a rock, or a stick, or a tree, or some other everyday artefact. How often do we see more elaborate toys abandoned in favour of some of the simpler offerings? This is also a significant lesson for us in organisations. Most often the simpler the approach and the process the more successful it will be. If we follow this example then we should strive as hard as possible to make things as simple as possible.
The final element of childlike behaviour that we would do well to emulate is the way kids are enthralled with the wonderment of the small things, of beautiful things, of things new, of magic and mystery and fun. Play is such an important part of becoming human. Why is it that we encourage play to stop and for everything in life to become serious and burdensome. Why can we not make work playful and fun?! Kids often live in fantasy worlds; kids dream big dreams about the future. We should not forget to do this and then do whatever we can to translate these dreams into reality for the good of all.
We need to rejuvenate and regain our wonder and joy of the world of which we are part. We need to make sure that work is fun. We need to play so that we can become progressively more adept at dealing with the world around us and we need to work hard to make friends out of strangers!