What Kids Can Teach Us About Life and Leadership

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age.” Aldous Huxley

Some have suggested that children and travelers are best prepared to succeed in a rapidly changing environment because both theoretically possess strong capacities for adapting to their environment, learning new things, and going with the flow.

Kids can teach adults a great deal that can help us in the grown-up playground we call work. Here are a few lessons I have found particularly beneficial, ones I share in a popular keynote entitled, Be a Kid AgainDownload a colorful one-page PDF with the seven takeaways.

Be curious.
If it is on the floor or in their path, it will be in their mouth. Kids want to pick up, look, touch, throw, taste, and squeeze everything. Many years ago, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts ran wonderful ad campaign showing delightful kids looking out an airplane's window.  The tagline?  When did you begin insisting on the aisle seat?  The campaign poitned out how growing up can dull our natural curiosity … no more looking out the windows on planes, etc. Yet curiosity and a sense of wonder is what can lead us to innovations, new and unexpected possibilities, or just wonderful learning from surprising sources.

Take field trips.
If you let it, everyday life can be a field trip, requiring only that pay more attention and with greater intention.  But we all have daily routines and rituals that we should interrupt periodically, putting ourselves in new places with different people trying activities we have yet to experience.   Field trips were always one of the most popular school days, and not just because they got us out of mundane classwork.  They refreshed our sense of wonder, expanded our range of experience, and allowed us to interact informally with peers … all benefits equally valuable in our professional endeavors today.

Play with everybody.
For a good part of their early years, kids are equal opportunity playmates: they will play with everybody. This provides them a diversity of interactions and experiences and an openness to all kinds of individuals. No need for mandatory diversity education for kids. They live it and welcome it everyday. We adults would be wise to open up our circles, interacting and networking with a far more diverse group of individuals.  This is as true for who you follow on Twitter or which blogs you read as it is for who you hang with at a professional conference or in the office lunchroom.

Speak the truth … always.
Oh the delightful honesty of those too young to know better … or those wise enough to know best perhaps. Kids do say the darndest things, but they tell it like it is. Most adults see being completely honest as risky. We need to create a world where tempering or censoring our honesty is seen as the greatest risk of all. Because it is. How much time do you or does your organization spend dealing with half-truths, rumors, and misstatements simply because people were unwilling to be honest? Enough said.

Participate … and do so with enthusiasm.

When kids volunteer in class or try to get picked for a team, they swing their arms wildly, make loud noises, and jump up and down. You really know they want to get involved. If only we could tap into that same energy level and enthusiasm in our volunteer workforce, matching people’s talents, time, and what they care about to our organization’s needs in such a compelling way that they jump up and down to get involved. And schools are particularly sensitive to ensuring kids get a chance to participate so that everyone is involved.  Our organizations should adopt this mindset when looking to engage individuals in collaborative endeavors.

Let your imagination run wild.
Successful innovators know that fresh thinking occurs in a playful environment, and that sometimes the best ideas result from building on wild ideas that too easily could be rejected upon presentation.  So while it is important to stay focused during any idea generation sessions, that focus must not shackle the range of ideas expressed.  You can't predict when a crazy thought will become a catalyst for a provocative innovation, so while you should remain cautious of ideas that can derail a discussion, remain open to those that might provide interesting detours.

Always get back up when you fall down.
Resilient and resourceful. Kids fall down, dust themselves off, and get right back up to try again. They don’t take such apparent defeats as setbacks; rather they see them as a natural part of the process. We would be well-served in our organizations if people bounced right back up and began to try again whenever a temporary setback is experienced.  Things not working out according to play should be seen as normal given that we can't 100% plan for what will happen when other people begin to interact with our programs, products, or services.


Stephen Lemire said...

Hi Jeffrey,

These are great reminders. Thank you.

I find the timing particularly interesting as I had just written a piece on how an infant recently gave me pause and reinforced some important lessons of nonprofit management.


Stephen Lemire

Nikki Jeske said...

I love this so much. Before I began working for Affiniscape, I was a Naturalist and worked as an Outdoor Educator for a Nature Center - I spent most of my days teaching 5-7 year-olds the wonders of bugs and trees and the world around us. This post reflects so many of the things that I learned from my kids. Thank you for the great reminder and for bringing a smile to my face. This is fantastic.

Kim Lorimier said...

What a terrific reminder to be playful, find joy, and most of all jump in to life. I was just writing about these ideas on my blog for Suzuki music teachers and parents. I plan to link to this article with your permission. Great writing and thanks!



Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Kim: Thanks so much for your kind words and feel free to link to this post. Be a Kid Again (and these points made in this post) is one of my favorite keynote speeches to give.