Recently, my 9-year-old son was playing with a Minecraft Lego set he received for his birthday. The set had come with all the parts necessary to assemble a small replica of the Minecraft world right in his room. After he assembled it, he placed it on a shelf, making sure that nobody would take it apart.
So that got me thinking. Is not the purpose of Legos, or any building blocks for that matter, to build, take apart and repeat?
As a small child, I had a bin of building blocks, which included Legos and Lincoln Logs and every empty bottle and food container we could find. Add to the mix a few Hot Wheels and Star Wars actions figures, and my brother and I had all we needed to build and pretend for hours.
Times have changed. Today, toys come with instructions and backstories, and kids can watch a seemingly infinite supply of YouTube videos that demonstrate how to play with them. Very little is left to the imagination, and it’s killing our creativity early.
And if our creativity has not been crushed at a young age, it certainly has its work cut out at adulthood. Guidelines, rules, restrictions and expectations are placed on us in the workplace, and while great for productivity, they hinder our ability to create and innovate.
The best way to give our creativity a spark is to get back to the innocent days of childhood, when our lives revolved around playing, pretending, experimenting, adventuring and creating. Here are a few tips to get your office back to that happy place.
1. Set the mood.
Like a playroom for kids, your office environment plays a huge part in promoting creativity. The color, layout and even the background noise can have an impact. You do not necessarily need to spend a fortune to create this space, just keep in mind that everyone has their preferences, so allow some flexibility for each team member.
2. Enforce the process.
Many adults, like children, default to their comfort zone. If allowed to watch TV or meander on an iPad, most children will do so (I am convinced mine might not even eat). Instead, entrepreneurs need to push the creative process every once and a while and dedicate financial resources and time to developing and refining ideas.
3. Accept all ideas.
Children think up the oddest things, and if you have ever watched a group of young kids interact, no idea ever seems too crazy. In fact, the crazier the idea, the more likely other kids chime in or try to top it.
When it comes to generating new and creative ideas, the trap many people fall into is to quickly dismiss ideas as crazy or dumb. Instead, allow and encourage all ideas to at least be discussed, as they very well may spark a conversation that gives birth to the next big idea.
4. Celebrate failure.
Children are incredibly resilient, bouncing back from failure like bonk dolls. Adults, however, shudder at the thought of it. To get your team through this fear, avoid punishing your team or team members if they truly have tried to find the right solutions. Simply review the lessons learned with them and move on quickly.
5. Encourage building.
Building things, be it with Legos or ideas, exercises the mind and promotes critical thinking. Encourage your team to build, and remind them that all great ideas were nurtured and iterated often over long periods of time and with a great many people.
6. Set one productivity parameter.
The only productivity parameter you should have in your creativity process is that there are no parameters.
Todd Henry, in his book The Accidental Creative, aptly points out that creativity is not a predictable skill and requires time to properly vet and iterate. Unfortunately, too many business managers mistakenly apply time expectations and measured deliverables on the creative process, which can hamper it altogether.
Be flexible, and allow your creative process to ebb and flow as it needs.
7. Rinse, lather, repeat.
The creative process, like any process or skill, requires practice. How much practice? In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argued that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill comes down to practicing that skill a total of about 10,000 hours, which equates to devoting 20 hours per week for 10 years. This probably explains why children are so good at being children -- it is all they do.
8. Adopt possible.
When we were kids, we believed everything was possible. Then we were burdened with life’s harsh realities, facts and to a great extent physics. Without a doubt, one of the most destructive phrases in business might be “that’s impossible,” so once you can eliminate it and adopt a new mantra, you will be shocked at what you can accomplish when everyone is on board.
Creativity is not something that happens magically to certain people or after a few beers or a dose of peyote. It is an iterative process that requires a massive supply of ideas, regardless of how small, insignificant or crazy. The most effective people at generating countless new and unique ideas are children.
As Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Maybe we can't, but we can at least try with a really awesome play room.
What do you think? Have you had success and/or failures trying to get your work environment to think like kids? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.