What a Three Year Old Can Teach Us About Business

1 09 2011

Today marks the first day of school in our area. It is time to get back into our “school” routines with early drop offs and homework. Our daughter who does a poor job pretending like she doesn’t want to be there couldn’t hardly wait for the car to stop in front of the school so she could get out and see her friends.

We have one more that will be going to school soon. At the ripe old age of three, he enjoys running around in order to keep his parents young. Right now he does not have to worry about teachers or homework. He can just spend his time being a little boy. Ahh, youth. There is something about the attitude of a child that reflects on the work I do with businesses. I’m beginning to think he’s the one who has it all figured out. There are pieces of our childhood that are lost as we grow older and become more mature. It turns out some of those elements are critical to the growth and innovation of a company. Not to mention they could really improve the environment we work in.

  1. Be your own person – At the age of three, we worry less about what others think of us.  That freedom allows us to figure out who we are and be who we truly want to be.  As we get older, the can’ts, shouldn’ts, and won’ts flood in and start restricting our behavior taking away who we truly are.  In business, these are the same things that squash ideas and creativity.   It forces culture to change because “that’s not how you do business.”  How would your company change if you pulled the restrictions that held people back?
  2. The laws of physics do not apply here – In the mind of a child, creativity is infinite.  My son’s ability to create elaborate stories and design his own definitions of how things should be is fun to watch.  Children live in the world of “what if” before they reach the world of “what is”.  In their minds they can become anything they want and create a whole new set of rules around it.  As we get older, many of us lose this creativity.  It gives way to the real world where rules and order apply.   Yet you look at some of the most innovative companies in the world today and they embrace creativity.  Ideas flow freely.  The focus is placed on how CAN we do this vs. why we can’t.  Maybe it is time to tap into our inner child again?
  3. They keep it simple – Sometimes knowledge is restrictive.  At three, you look for taking the fewest steps to get what you want.  You don’t worry about complicating things.  While the world of a three year old may not be as complex, they also don’t look to over-complicate things.  If there were ways to simplify your business, what would it do for you?  For your people?
  4. Boundless curiosity – In your youth everything is new and exciting.  For our three year old, when we take trips to different places we call them adventures.  Each place is wonderful to him when it’s an adventure.  This time of discovery and curiosity makes things fun and opens their world to new possibilities.  Why is a popular question at this age.  That sense of adventure and discovery is something that can be lost as we get older.  How would your business improve if your leadership and staff asked why more often?
  5. Focused determination – Children tend to embrace one thing and go after it with reckless abandon.  They become experts in their passions and learn everything they can about their favorite toys.  They also are clear about what they want and can be very determined to get it.  Sometimes that wreaks havoc on parents who are tired of hearing about the latest Barbie or Thomas toy.  Yet at the age of three everything is pursued with passion and determination.  How would increased passion and determination change your business?
  6. Desire to play – I remember once talking to a CEO about having fun at work.  His reply was this place (work) was for getting things done, not goofing around.  People should enjoy where they are at but it is not a place to have fun.  If the average person spends over 80,000 hours of their life at work, why shouldn’t there be some fun?  Children know how to play.  That play turns on different parts of the mind which leads to greater creativity.  In fact, at that age you are encouraged to teach children about work through play.  We make it a game to pick up his toys.  When it is a contest and it is fun, he readily participates.  What would happen if you injected a little play at your office?
  7. Don’t know that failure is an option – At three, you don’t worry about failure.  You are always willing to try new things.  With the right encouragement, children are often open to doing things they have never done before.  They are also more willing to get back up and try something all over again.  Fear rarely exists at this age.  Without the restrictive behavior of fear, children are open to more possibilities.  What would happen if you could take away the fear of failure from your staff.
  8. Live in the moment – Children are ever present.  They are tied into the world around them.  They live every minute of every day to their fullest.  They play, run, jump, laugh, and love.  They don’t check out.  What would change if you or your staff did this every day?  How would it change the relationships with co-workers and customers?  Enjoy every minute because once it is gone you can never get it back.
  9. Want independence – This is the age where kids first start stepping out on their own.  They want to do things themselves and are excited when they are able to accomplish tasks on their own.  As we get older, we continue to desire independence.  In the right work environment we are given responsibilities and are allowed to grow professionally.  Some workplaces want to restrict independence.  Places of high structure and low independence limits creativity and personal growth.  Often this is also a sign of micromanaging leadership that are overburdened with small tasks instead of visionary growth.  What are you doing to encourage independence with careers in your business?
  10. Willing to ask for help – Though the desire for children to do things themselves is strong; they are still not afraid to ask for help.  Somewhere along our path to our professional career, asking for help is often seen as a sign of weakness.  Actually, asking for help is a sign of strength.  Asking for help can avoid costly mistakes, allow you to get things done faster, and grow your knowledge  When was the last time you asked for help?

So parents, enjoy the first day of school.  They grow up to fast.  But most importantly, never forget how powerful the mind of a child truly is.  Take some time today to tap into some of that youth yourself.  Who knows, it may change things for the better.








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