Growing up, I didn’t play with a whole lot of store-bought toys. It’s not that my parents didn’t provide enough tools to stimulate my young mind. In fact, it was quite the opposite: my parents had given me the best toy a young boy could have. I was raised in the country.
Living in the middle of nowhere for the first part of my childhood meant that I didn’t need very many toys to keep me happy. Instead I preferred activitiesÃ‚Â like climbing trees, turning hay bales into forts and tromping through the woods, to name a few. I learned quickly that the best fun was the kind made with your own imagination.
When did we outgrow “imagination”?
How many times as children did we take mundane materials like sheets and couch coushions to create castles and forts? I distinctly remember using a toilet plunger as a sword many a time in the early years. (What?! It seemed like a good idea at the time…) For some reason as adults we “grow” out of this creative mindset and started worrying about the everyday bits of life. While this is important for functioning in society,it sure puts a damper on being creative.
Kids are some of the best problem solvers around. Give a kid motivation for solving a problem, and they’ll use whatever resources handy to get it done. Not only that, they won’t quit until they’ve found the solution. They have the perfect blend of determination, creativity and downright recklessness to find a solution.
So where did adults go wrong? I’d argue that we stopped listening to the inner child and started listening to our bosses or worse, our insecurities. Now we see the world through jaded eyes, and what was once wonderful is now commonplace.But it doesn’t have to be like that. Here are a few ways to recapture that mindset of a creative child:
- Eliminate pesky technology distractions. How many small children do you know that check their email constantly? Or are constantly on the phone? Yeah, me either.
- Stop multi-tasking. Kids have a one-track mind. Unlike the awful training that they’ll receive when they’re older, at a young age they have the incredible ability to not only focus on the task at hand, but to fixate on it.
- Seek alone time. It never ceases to amaze me how productive kids are when they’re playing by themselves. They are literally the masters of getting into the flow.
- Be silly. I’m not joking. While this is what kids are notorious for, it can actually be an incredible tactic to really think outside the box. How many major breakthroughs and products were developed around some guy having a lazy beer with another friend posing unlikely “what if” scenarios. For example:
Bill Hewlett: (Chuckling) “Hey Dave, what if someone made a computer that was smaller than a room, and people could use them in their homes?! Oh man, that would be crazy rad.
David Packard: “Hrm…..”
Being silly allows you to explore those scenarios that you wouldn’t bother with if you were thinking like a responsible adult.
- Nap times. Unfortunately, as we’ve gotten older we tend to overlook the fact that growing up, we had nap times at the same time every day. While we may not need a daily afternoon siesta, the principle still remains: make sure rest is a priority. Rest is essential for creativity, and without it we don’t leave enough resources to think outside the box. We’re more interested in getting through the day.
- Milk and cookies. Ahh yes… who doesn’t love milk and cookies? Milk and cookies stand for the simple pleasures that we overlook every day because we’re too busy. Simple treats in our day can make a huge difference in our overall attitude and boost our mood. Have you ever had a splurge of creativity while being depressed? It’s hard to be creative while grumpy. Have a cookie.
- Test the boundaries. Anyone who’s spent more than 5 minutes with a 2-year old knows what this means. Kids will always, always try to push the limits. While this can be pretty frustrating as a parent, it can be a good thing as a child. Without testing boudaries, the child doesn’t learn what it can’t do, or more importantly, what it can do. As adults, we can easily become complacent. But true innovation means that we have to be willing to take risks and test the boundaries. Tim Ferriss puts it best by saying we should implement first and apologize later (only if it blows up).
- See the world with wonder. Einstein was famous for this. Because his language developed slowly as a lad, it allowed him to look in wonder at the common things most people don’t take a second look at. “The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time. These are things he has thought of as a child.. Consequently, I probed more deeply into the problem than an ordinary child would have.” (source ) Einstein’s ability to see the world with a child’s eyes gave him a unique insight on everyday findings, which eventually led to some of the world’s most amazing breakthroughs in science.
Photo by wisacre photography