Go to any office in America and you will probably hear about the childish behavior of some co-workers. Managers will express frustration that their direct reports are acting like children. The implication is that acting like a child is a problem because a child doesn’t play nice, doesn’t share, and has no initiative or accountability. This is an insult to children – since we can all learn a lot from our former selves.
First, children are endlessly curious. It is this curiosity that leads them to ask endless questions—even questions that seem silly and redundant to us adults. These questions help a child build an understanding of their world and establish their knowledge as concrete. In fact, preschoolers ask over 100 questions a day on average. Adults ask less than 10. Adults would benefit from rediscovering their ability to question everything. Curiosity is imperative for problem-solving, divergent thinking, and continuous development. Harvard Business Review has noted that “curiosity is as important as intelligence.”
Children are also resilient. If not for their resilience, they would never learn to walk, talk, or ride a bike. They fall, get up, and try again (sometimes without tears). It is their persistence that fuels their growth—and the belief that they canlearn anything that pushes them to succeed. Children also face adversity in countless ways, yet they adapt and move on. Adults, however, lose their resilience as they age. They start to shy away from new tasks because they are not proficient or knowledgeable. This limits their ability to thrive and adapt in the workplace. Our fear of feeling dumb prevents us from reaching our potential.
Lastly, children are genuine. Kids are honest about their assessments of things all the time. They do not protect you from the hard truths. They’ll tell you if dinner is bad, your dress is ugly, or you spit when you talk. Harsh realities. As adults, we become so concerned with avoiding conflict, being “nice”, and protecting our team that we stop being so forthright. Honesty, however, fuels growth. Open, immediate, and direct feedback is effective in improving company culture and driving accountability.
At JMReid Group, we reframe how we think about acting like children. We would all do better to be more childlike. Lev Vygotsky said: “In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself”. We embrace for adults learners this level of risk-taking and the courage and authenticity it requires.