4 ways thinking like a child can unearth fresh insight

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Adora Svitak’s TED talk (see video above) has been watched nearly 3.5million times – particularly  surprising given she was only 12 years old at the time! It suggest her subject,’What adults can learn from kids’, really struck a chord. Svitak suggests the world needs “childish” thinking – bold ideas, wild creativity and optimism – and adults should show a willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.

At Brand Genetics we believe that, as well as unleashing new creativity, thinking like a child can help unearth fresh insights about the world. Indeed in their latest book ‘Think Like a Freak’, the Freakonomics authors devote a whole chapter to the subject. So here are four tips from the book that we can all use to think more like a child and – in doing so – see the world in a new light:

1. Have Fun: As adults we can fall into the trap of thinking fun is forbidden in the workplace – we do serious jobs, with serious outcomes. But kids find ways to have fun with a challenge, turning it into a game or focusing on a particularly enjoyable element of it. At Brand Genetics we’ve always believed that people not only do their best work if they’re having fun, but that they’re more open to new thoughts. Try it: you’ll not only enjoy it more, but you’ll also feel more willing to ‘play’ – experimenting and trying new things you would have avoided if it was ‘serious’.

2. Think Small: As Rory Sutherland suggests many flashy, expensive fixes are just obscuring better, simpler answers. Kids aren’t so worried about whether a thought or an idea is big or small – they just like something that seems to work. Small can be possible, doable and manageable – whereas big can  get complex and unworkable really quickly. Some of the most powerful insights we’ve uncovered have been small things – obvious in many ways, but obscured by the search for more ‘strategic’ solutions.

3. Don’t Fear the Obvious: in the same vein too often we believe the obvious answer can’t be the right one because… well it’s the obvious answer, surely someone would have done that already. But children don’t fear the obvious and they don’t dismiss it. Whereas adults tend to want to appear smart, kids have less fear of looking dumb by stating the obvious. So the obvious is all too often not properly interrogated but taken as understood, when actually questioning and interrogating the obvious might reveal powerful insights into what’s going on.

4. Find a New Perspective: Perhaps surprisingly, magician’s find kids much harder to fool than adults. This is for a variety of reasons, from an unwillingness to have their attention focused by someone else to their freedom from assumptions, but our favourite is the simplest: kids are normally shorter. This means that they see the trick from a different perspective, often looking up at the magician, and that can reveal sleights of hand an adult would normally miss. So if you want a metaphorically fresh perspective, finding a literal way to look at the challenge from a new angle will help you uncover something fresh.

As the authors suggest, this isn’t saying we should model all our behaviour on an eight year old, but rather simply that we try to ‘smuggle a few childlike instincts across the border into adulthood’. And perhaps if that doesn’t work, you should just ask some children for their views on your challenge – maybe, if you really take the time to listen and learn from them, they might unlock a new opportunity.


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