Act like a child again!

What we can learn from children in order to develop our creativity.

The human being is creative by nature. Practically 80% of our brain is made up of cerebral cortex – which allows us, for example, to plan strategically, be capable of projecting our long-term existence (some people contract pension plans before they reach 30) and CREATE.  But it’s such hard work being creative! We are educated to develop the rest of our abilities, so much so that we even suffer from what the American philosopher, Daniel Dennett, calls “Ascidia Syndrome“. From birth, this marine animal travels the ocean searching for a place to live and, when it finds it and settles down there – it eats its brain because it will no longer need it!

When we feel that we are at a stable stage and that we control our surroundings, we usually settle into our comfort zone. We dispel new ideas like someone swatting a fly and we flee from the greatest ones – from those that can change the course of history or, at least, our lives – because we are afraid they might complicate it.

In order to innovate, you have to dream (yes, we all do it sometimes – or we should!) but that’s not enough: we have to have the drive, the motivation and the talent to make our dreams reality. These values turn creativity into innovation!

And there are no better experts on the subject than those crazy little guys who got lost en-route while we struggled with preconceived ideas and prejudices.  Because they – with their ingenuity and illusion – have the most powerful tool for creation: the beginner’s mind. Shall we get it back?

Behaviour and techniques that we can learn from children to develop our creativity and capacity for innovation.

1. Keep It simple. More often than not, the solution is hidden in what is most simple. We usually mix innovation with perfection and that’s where we get stuck or stop. As Bernando Hernández, the current director of Flickr, quotes: “Innovation is not bound to perfection. Innovate and launch – then your surroundings will help you to perfect it.”

2. Mix ideas. Don’t think about how… just do it. Kids go into the idea supermarket and pick something from here and something from there, and prepare unforeseeable dishes – often tasty and always surprising.  The cross-pollination of ideas is just that:  the mixture of ideas and concepts with no apparent relationship. And we can apply this to our daily lives – both in the professional and personal arena. Below are several techniques for putting this into practice:

list_ok Combine concepts. This involves articulating ideas from daily thoughts, emotions and objects. Don’t worry about the coherence of the results – because logic is not invited to this party! I’d like to give you a personal anecdote as an example. My 6-year-old niece, Lucia, is full of enthusiasm:  she is being taught about the evolutionary process of plants at school. The other day she said to her mother: “Mummy, don’t worry. If you die one day, I’ll just plant you again and it’ll be okay!” Everyone can come to their own conclusion. ;)

list_ok Share without complexes. Be spontaneous, curious and don’t be shy about asking. Look at workshops for children: they are small laboratories for potentially big ideas. A room full of materials, without too many rules or programmes, and an army of kids ready to test the resistance of the world!

Associate with people with the same professional profile:  just because you share interests doesn’t mean you share the same focus. But it’s also useful to interact with people from other professional profiles, from a different culture or generation. Tom Kelley, author of the best-seller The Art of Innovation, refers to the free lunches offered by Google to its employees as a focus for innovation – because they get experts from different areas into contact with each other.

list_ok Build on what you already have. Babies live in a parallel reality and literally draw their
neighbours however they please. Sometimes what we want to achieve already exists… but it is in the wrong place or form.  One of the most common experiments is creating fantasy animals from parts of real animals. This is fun for them and adults love it. In fact, “alebrijes” – an emblem of Mexican culture – are a famous artistic representation of this technique and, according to legend, came from the feverish delirium of an artisan.

list_ok Metaphors and stories. Metaphors and analogies connect us with creativity because, when we use them, we are already activating our inventive mechanism. Besides, it has been proven that the kind of metaphor we use to deal with a problem, will determine the solution. For example, if we think of a murder as a lethal virus, the metaphorical solutions that we come up with will affect all of society. However, if we imagine a monster that is stalking our community, we will look for a more individual solution.

3. Look as if it were for the first time. You can practise on your way to work, as it is a way to skip past routine and discover little details that you hadn’t noticed up to now.

4. Stand up as often as you need to. If you fall, cry and stamp, but don’t wait to get back on the horse, because life is still full of exciting moments that you have a lot to contribute to.

5. Heart and art. Put intensity into everything you do and open up to new possibilities. Be flexible and experiment: Maybe you didn’t find the best way to achieve your aim – but that doesn’t mean that you won’t achieve it!

Little 6-year-old Ruby Bridges contributed to the end of racial segregation in the United States, and Charlie Simpson, a 7-year-old boy, decided to raise funds on his bicycle after being struck by the images of the earthquake in Haiti.  These kids wanted to bring about change – they got up and they did it. What are we adults waiting for to start to think big?

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the Navy” Steve Jobs

Images: Alebrije from The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Photo of a child from ecerroni.

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