When I was an educator I would often reflect on the idea that I learnt more from my students than ever I taught them, in the ten years since I left working in schools and having spent time in some of the world's most high performing environments, I'm now convinced of it!
Here's a thought we learn the vast majority of everything we learn in our lifetime before our fifth birthday. I'm not talking about “stuff” here; content or knowledge, I'm talking about the really complex stuff. Most of us have learnt to walk and talk, understand body language, facial expression and vocal intonation; we have started to make sense of the sensory world around us and all before we are five! We set goals on a minute by minute basis and deploy all of our human resource to achieve them. Most young children are relentlessly curious, incredibly resilient and highly innovative. They see problems not as barriers but as opportunities.
Not too long ago, I was working with one of the world’s leading audio visual technology companies. A company that depended on constant change and innovation to survive. On paper, they were very lucky; their profile meant that they had their pick of the finest young minds in the world, often employing highly educated and qualified people; the best of the best. Their problem however, was that they were finding many of their staff struggling with change, development and self management. My trite solution; don't hire anyone over five.
As very young children; anything to us is possible and even in adversity we bounce back and keep trying. It all starts to slow down the day that someone tells us that we have to colour in between the lines.
Over the last year or so, I have had the incredible opportunity to talk with and explore the natures of highly successful people; brilliant goal setters and even better goal achievers; people like Jay Z, Sam Smith, Sir Richard Branson and Sir Alex Ferguson. All of them possess qualities that were very familiar to me, childlike qualities that many of us are told are naïve and the signs of immaturity; traits we learn to suppress in favour of being “grown up.” Branson for example is relentlessly curious, Sam Smith amazingly resilient, Ferguson never gives up and Jay Z, the boy who was dropped by a record label, who borrowed $2000 dollars to cut a demo disc which he then distributed on the streets of New York, day after day, until he connected with a record executive, simply doesn't see insurmountable problems.
As we “grow up” so many of us become so obsessed with the idea that maturity and intelligence are linked to complexity and that failure is bad and must be avoided, that we start to set low level goals, if we set goals at all; all too often talking ourselves out of the exciting stuff, because we don't want to try and fail and we certainly don't want to appear naïve or even infantile.
Spend a few hours being immature, go on, go crazy; take a risk, if it doesn't pan out laugh and try again. Dream big again, ask questions constantly and never allow yourself to be satisfied by just enough or by logical solutions alone. At the very least, spend some time colouring outside the lines. It's addictive.
I have a very cool friend called Seb Foucan, some of you may have heard of him; he is the founder of Parcours, or freerunning. You may have seen him in the opening sequence of Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond, in Casino Royale. He was the bad guy hanging from cranes and leaping over roof tops. He has an addictive, youthful charm and an even more attractive way of seeing the world. He once observed that most people, when stood in an urban environment, look at the buildings; marvelling at their scale; many are daunted by them. He sees those environments differently; never looking at the buildings but at the “beauty” of the spaces between them, spaces that are seductive in their possibilities, they represent pathways that allow you to move around, under and over the obstacles, that are the buildings, the gaps constitute freedom. In essence, to Seb, that is what is at the heart of Parcours and he started it as a child, clambering over a statue in the middle of his housing estate in France; curious, adventurous and never prepared to stand still or accept that the buildings could hold him in. Childlike? Yep but what a way to see the world! Children play and so should we, you'll be amazed what you can learn and what you can achieve. Simple!