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. Being in any way child-like is a problem to be solved. This is an insult to children – since we can all learn a lot about the characteristics of success from our former selves.
5 Characteristics of Success That We Can Learn from Children
First, children are endlessly curious.
It is this curiosity that leads them to ask an infinite number of 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 can learn 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 worry about not being proficient or seen as knowledgeable. This limits their ability to thrive and adapt in the workplace. Our fear of feeling dumb prevents us from reaching our potential.
Children are authentic.
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. Companies hire training companies to tell us to be candid.
Children are compassionate.
Compassion is targeted at recognizing when others are in pain and acting upon it. There is sufficient research that babies are naturally compassionate to other babies. Psychologist Dr. Paul Bloom asserts, “Once they’re capable of coordinated movement, babies will often try to soothe others who are suffering by patting and stroking.” Compassion only grows in children until—wait for it—middle school.
Middle school establishes one’s identities, one’s group, and the resulting us-versus-them prison we live in. In addition, compassion will often involve personal risk that more children than adults will take.
Finally, there is playfulness.
Do we really want adults to be more playful? We do. Play is the physical exercise of the imagination. Adults struggle to do justice to this superpower. Perhaps it is partly due to what the experts tell us.
The Board of Innovation gets it partly right when they say, “Ideation is not just a matter of getting the right people in the room, adding some post-its and beers to the mix, and waiting for three hours until the next disruptive venture is somehow brought into being.”84 But they throw kryptonite when they say, “A good ideation session is hard work! It is a structured process of guiding the right people through a number of carefully designed exercises to come up with innovative ideas.”85
Yippee. Sounds like hell.
At JMReid Group, we reframe how we think about acting like children. We would all do better to be more childlike and learn from these characteristics of success that they can teach us. 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.” For adult learners, we embrace this level of risk-taking and the courage and authenticity it requires.