Are you kidding?
They can be irrational, occasionally ridiculous and, at times, seem to lack any common sense; but meltdowns about the wrong colour cup aside, children are amazing and there’s so much we can learn from them – even in the workplace. 44’s Sarah Woods explains more…
This year marks 30 years since the release of Big – the tall tale about how a 12-year-old boy ends up in the body of a 30-year-old man. Pure Eighties gold.
In amongst the dodgy outfits and questionable hairstyles, ‘Big Josh’ (played by Tom Hanks) gets himself a low-level office job, but he’s quickly promoted to a senior position testing toys at MacMillan Toy Company. The owner recognises Josh’s ability to get inside the mind of a child… which isn’t surprising given what we know.
In this situation, being less like an adult and more like a child is a massive advantage. But in general, the consensus is that the workplace is about being grown-up and professional.
Looking back at my own childhood, I can see why this might be the case. As someone who was once the champion of a game that involved repeatedly putting your head in the way of a revolving door, I can attest to the ridiculous things that children do. As loser of that game (and the one whose head was wedged firmly in the door), I think my brother would be inclined to agree.
My own children frequently do and say things that totally baffle me, but there are SO many times when they amaze me with what they say or do – in a good way!
So, here are five things I think we could learn from kids…
While this is a trait to be admired in children – it’s also one that regularly fills me with fear. If you’ve ever experienced the toe-curling horror of a child pointing out someone with a big nose or declaring that they hate a gift they’ve just unwrapped, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. But they aren’t trying to be mean; it’s just that kids tend to say it as they see it. As adults, we learn empathy and wouldn’t point out things that could be uncomfortable. But honesty, used with sensitivity, can be a good thing. Sometimes in the workplace, you need to have uncomfortable conversations – it’s about making sure you do it in the right way, so keep it constructive.
Creativity and imagination are such powerful tools – children aren’t afraid to explore their ideas, no matter how strange they might seem to us. The child dreaming up tuna perfume as a Christmas gift for cats could well be an award-winning marketer of the future. Similarly, an atmosphere at work where ideas are met with interest, and not disdain, is important if you want to encourage the most creative thinking. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2020 creativity will be in the top three most important skills for future jobs. If your organisation encourages creativity and is open to off-the-wall ideas, then you never know when you’ll be on to a winner.
Children tend to find humour in things that adults overlook, or simply don’t understand. From funny jokes to jokes that don’t make sense, funny sounds, funny faces and in my house, for some unknown reason, the name Geoffrey. In some work environments, there can be a sense that laughter = fun, and fun isn’t appropriate or professional.
The trouble with this is that a little bit of laughter is a very good thing! It’s well documented that laughter is good for you. It reduces stress and increases endorphins, which have been found to promote feelings of togetherness – both hugely positive things in a workplace.
The ‘why’ stage is a well-recognised part of raising children and, while it might be annoying, it’s rooted in the fact that children are naturally curious and fascinated by the world around them. Asking questions in the workplace is a good thing. Making sure that you’re clear on what you’re being asked to do is fundamental to making sure you do a good job. An environment that encourages questions without judgement is important if you want to achieve the best results.
If you’ve ever seen a child watch TV while sitting upside down, or slide down the stairs headfirst, then you’ll know that they have a very unique take on things. They aren’t afraid to do things differently or see what happens when they try something new. As adults, we can become so set in our ways that we don’t always stop and think about how it could be different. Being versatile and open to new ideas allows you to see things from another perspective – and ask whether there’s a better way.
And while you probably wouldn’t want workmates who randomly fall asleep on the floor, refuse to wear clothes, or cover EVERYTHING in glitter… there are so many child-like qualities that really could make work a much better place.
Go on, embrace your inner child. We double dare you.