It's a cliche in the business of creative thinking that children are more creative than adults. And it's right too, for one very simple reason: Kids are still exploring the world, they're far further provoked by what we'd see as simple stimuli, and most importantly they're not yet channelled down the paths of received wisdom and popular taxonomy.
My daughter wouldn't think twice before painting curtains around a car window, or drawing a car parked on top of a tree. And these are precisely the kinds of juxtapositions we need to encourage if we're ever to launch our own thinking in more interesting directions.
The tree-car thing could work especially well. How about someone inventing ...
- A car park with a ramp alongside a prestigious African treetop hotel?
- Vehicle-themed Xmas tree decorations?
- Trees and root-systems on wheels, providing mobile shade in parks?
- A network of sensors and alarms ("horns") around a forest, recording and alerting on forest fires from tree-top vantage points?
- A window-box planter for your car's parcel-shelf, for tree-huggers like me or perhaps for extreme oxygen addicts?
I've written extensively in the past about how we can generate our own provocations. But it does take effort, whereas kids seem to come up with stuff like this without trying.
So the exam question today is: How can we liberate ourselves to be more childlike at work?
Funnily enough, I think it comes more easily with age! I'm not talking about senile regression here, just that it's easier to act like a kid if people know you're not. You'll more likely be tolerated and listened to if you've established your value in conventional ways in the past.
A 21-year old graduate acting like a kid might just be seen as ... a kid, so runs the risk of being largely-ignored. (Some years ago I worked with a 30-year old who'd spent the last decade driving a pretend motorbike around the office. It lent nothing to his gravitas.)
The other obvious way to tackle this is have special days or hours where childish behaviour is encouraged. Of course many organisations do fundraising days, or dress-down Fridays, both of which go some way to licensing unconventional behaviour. But it's not quite enough.
Creative thinking events, well-facilitated, can certainly help. Participants can be firmly instructed to be silly. They have no choice. It works.
If all else fails, why not just be childlike on the inside, perhaps even in your own time. Give yourself half an hour each day to let go, let your mind wander, and fall into your own provocations. If you have children, match their behaviour. Leave the provocations lying around in your subconscious and see what happens.