Employment Hero

What we can learn about creativity at work from a six year old

When we get caught in the rhythm of working life, sometimes things can get a little dull. We move through tasks, we check things off our to-do list, we have the same meetings over-and-over…

Part of this is an inevitability, right? It’s unrealistic to try to make every minute of the workday exciting. But we run into trouble when working life becomes mundane and void of imagination.

Creative thinking is not only good for our brains, it’s a powerful business tool. Think about every leader that has created a world-changing product or service. At the heart of every major innovation is imaginative, out-of-the-box thinking.

Creativity can’t just open you up to new possibilities and discoveries, it can also help you perform better as a leader or professional. In McKinsey’s study on creativity’s bottom line, they found that creative leaders were outperforming their peers on key financial metrics;

  • 67% had above average organic revenue growth
  • 70% had above average total return to shareholders
  • 74% had above average net enterprise value

You don’t have to be in a creative role to feel the benefits of creative thinking. Engaging with imagination skills can help any employee innovate, grow and be more adaptable. In fact, creativity is marked to be one of the most in-demand skills for the future of work.

So how can we learn to be more creative? It’s all about prioritisation and practice. And maybe a little inspiration.

Maturity is often one of the most valued characteristics of an employee. But what if we took a slightly more immature approach to ignite our imagination. What if we looked to a six-year-old to refresh our way of thinking? 

We kid you not.

It might sound odd, but young children are great examples of fresh, creative brains. In fact, they’re wired for creative thinking, problem solving and growth (literally and figuratively). Let’s explore why children are so creative and what we can learn from them to bring a little more creative play into our working lives.

Why are children so creative?

So what’s their secret? Here’s how children have effortless creativity.

1. They have no sense of failure

Let’s take a second to do a quick exercise. Apologies in advance, this one’s a little unpleasant.

Close your eyes and think about all the times you’ve failed. Whether it was a major mess-up or an awkward misstep – we bet that memories of failure are never too far from your mind.

Don’t come back to earth with all of those sticky feelings just yet. Take another minute to imagine what life would be like if none of those failing experiences had occurred. Would that make you feel more or less likely to take a risk today?

Failure is an important and natural part of professional life. It’s how we learn and grow and is nothing to be ashamed of. But freeing yourself from the fear of failure is about as powerful a tool as you could possibly have when it comes to creative thinking.

With limited life experience, children don’t bring their emotional baggage to creative thinking. They’re not worried about failing, they just do what they want to do and what they think would be fun. Without any worry or projection of what could happen beyond their next thought, they explore and share their ideas instinctively.

It’s a cliche for a reason; what would you do if you could not fail?

2. They believe every problem can be solved

Children are natural inventors. When they see a problem, they believe there is a fix just waiting to be discovered.

It’s difficult to explain to a child that some problems are extremely hard to find solutions for, and they might just have to live with the problem. That’s because that’s an unpleasant prospect! Children aren’t willing to just deal with an issue or inconvenience, they will keep looking for solutions – no matter how weird or wacky – til’ bedtime.

3. They don’t immediately question themselves

Most of us adults have learnt to run our words and ideas through an internal vetting process before we unleash them on the world. Kids don’t have this ability, and they’re more creative because of it.

Kids’ thoughts come to them on instinct – and they’re letting you know about them no matter how strange they seem. Without self-consciousness, they’re allowed to explore their imagination fully.

This intrinsic self-esteem also allows children to ask questions unabashedly. If a child doesn’t understand something, if they want more information or if they’re thinking deeply about something – they will ask you any and all related questions. As anyone with kids will know, sometimes these questions can be really silly and sometimes they can be strangely insightful.

4. They’re less aware of convention

Have you ever looked closely at a child’s artwork? If they want to use glitter, they’re using glitter. If they want to draw a unicorn that’s playing table tennis, you better believe they’re doing that too.

Kids don’t play by the rules of what’s ‘normal’ or what’s expected. They’re not trying to work within existing parameters because they don’t know about existing parameters. They have total creative freedom.

Little girl doing a wheelie in small car - text reading 'Haters gonna hate'

How can we spark our creativity?

So we know what children have over us, how can we beat them at their own game learn from them? Here’s a few ways to shock your brain back into a state of childlike creativity.

1. Take a non-judgemental and free approach to brainstorming

How many ideas do you think have been lost because people have felt too shy or nervous to share them?

Most people become nervous about sharing their ideas after a bad experience. Sometimes it only takes one sneer, sideways look or scoff to really deter someone from putting themselves out there again.

If you’re running a brainstorming session, jump up before it begins to make it clear that there are no bad ideas. In fact, the weirder and more out-of-the-box concepts your team comes up with, the better. Make a note of every idea that is discussed, and try not to favour or discard any ideas when brainstorming.

Remember – you can edit and pick ideas apart later, for now – it’s all about imagination. 

If you’re feeling self-conscious on a regular basis, you might be suffering from imposter syndrome. Learn more about conquering imposter syndrome.

2. Change your environment

When you come into the office and sit at the same desk everyday, or when you work from home with all of your regular comforts, the brain can start to get a little stale.

Having creative ideas is often about keeping your mind fresh. A great way to keep the brain stimulated is by mixing up your environments and routines. You don’t have to go on an expensive international holiday (even if that was an option), something as small as walking around the block, working from a nearby coffee shop or exploring your local area can keep you refreshed and provide space for that creative spark.

Man ripping down blinds to let daylight in the roomBreak free from your stale work environment.

3. Allocate time for free thinking

How often do you start a workday with the best of intentions to do some creative planning or thinking, only to look up after a busy day of tasks to see the clock tick over to 5pm? Very rarely is an innovative thought going to come to you when you’re rushing between meetings or answering emails. You’re on autopilot and you’re focused on getting things done.

This is the very unimaginative part of imagination – you have to block out time and dedicate yourself to it. You need to regularly practise creative thinking to improve at it.

So what’s the best way of doing this? Whether it’s a daily, weekly or monthly practise, block out some time in your calendar for creative thinking. Get on your own and just write down all of your thoughts and ideas until time’s up. For best results, combine this step with step 2, get out of your regular space – away from distractions – and let the creative juices flow.

4. Resist conformity

As human beings, sometimes we get inspired. It’s so easy to see someone else do something well, and to try to emulate them. While this might be a good course of action if you’re following great leadership or completing technical tasks – trying to recreate others’ ideas will not help you innovate.

On another side of the same coin, working within the existing parameters of your business won’t see you conceive the idea that will set you apart.

True innovation calls for originality. So even though it’s great to be aware of your competitors’ movements – they shouldn’t be the first place you look for inspiration. Instead, try to source some other things to get your brain ticking over – whether it’s having a creative session with someone outside your industry or visiting a creative space like an art gallery.

An inspired workforce is a powerful workforce. Learn more about inspiring your team.

5. Ask stupid questions

Kids are infamous for their ridiculous questions right? It’s all too easy to go down a rabbit hole when you’re having a conversation with a six-year-old. First they ask what’s for lunch, then they’re asking why the sky is blue, then they’re asking what is the sky.

Will Ferrel stroking his chin

Although it can be overwhelming to answer these questions – they’re on the right track. Diving deep into questions that might initially seem silly or obvious can often yield some fascinating insights into your product, service and audience. From insights come ideas, so don’t be afraid to ask all the questions, no matter how silly they may initially seem.

Free your inner child, let your creativity loose

Creative thinking is one of the most powerful skills you can nurture as a professional. Looking towards the simple and powerful approach that children take can be a great source of inspiration to get you started.

If you’re looking for some more ways to get your team’s brain stimulated, consider team building games! Luckily we have prepared 39, download our free e-book now.

39 team building games
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