Treat Your Staff Like Children

A child looking inquisitively through a circle of light, whilst another child looks on in the background
Image by frank mckenna

Watch children play. In particular, very young children — 2 or 3 years old. How do they learn? Do they read the instructions beforehand? Do they follow a set down process blindly that’s been given to them by their parents? Do they sit their waiting for someone to tell them what to do? Or do they dive in head first, make loads of mistakes, experiment with different approaches and finally get to something that works or improves their understanding?

Now look at your staff. Which category would they fall into?

It’s such a beautiful approach when you consider it. Children have no concept of failure, as everything they try is an experiment; they’re learning. Can’t fit the shape in the hole? Twist it around or try a different hole. What happens if I mix this colour into this colour? Cool. I’ll add another colour… oh it’s gone brown, I didn’t want that. What’s this thing for? Let’s play with it and break it down so I can see how it works. There is no right way of doing things in their eyes, they just play with whatever concept they come up and see how it pans out.

Now let’s fast-forward their lives 20 years. They now work in an office where they fear to make mistakes, and they don’t challenge the status-quo because there’s a set process in place, and that’s just the way things are done. All that natural curiosity gone, and the chance of garnering new ideas, from fresh points of view, gone with them. No more tearing down processes to find out how they work, then throwing out the bits that don’t matter.

Thankfully this is changing, and approaches such as The Lean Startup teach that experimentation and continuous innovation are important to your business in a fast changing world. Making the uncertainty around starting a business more scientific, has helped a lot of people get their ideas off the ground (heard of Dropbox by any chance?).

Build, Measure, Learn — The concept of Lean Startup isn’t new when you consider that it’s just what children have been doing naturally for years. But the most difficult part is creating an environment where your people can do that. Cultivating that childlike curiosity is difficult once it’s been drummed out of them, but the effort is worth it. Give them the freedom to experiment and try new things with the expectation that it might come to nothing (except for validated learning). Create a space where failure is celebrated as a learning opportunity, and people will not hesitate to throw crazy ideas forward, some of which might turn out to be gems.

By treating your staff like children and creating the right environment to “play” in, your business will be the one reaping the rewards.


Also published on Medium.

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