As summer draws to a close, and back-to-school reminders are everywhere, we find ourselves thinking more and more about what the innate imagination of a child can teach us about our own work and creativity. Seeing children take the summer to play, explore, and be free of much of the structure and rules they routinely follow makes us realize that we should be taking our cues from them.
From birth, we have an instinctive ability for imagination. Children are masters at taking the objects around them and transforming them into whatever their imagination dictates they should be, for the world they’ve created.
However as adults, it can be difficult to bridge amazing creativity with the real world constraints of business in a way that is still effective and imaginative. We’re not just talking imaginative in the literal artistic way either; problem solving of all kinds requires that we imagine solutions that aren’t currently there. So, how do we stretch our imaginations so that we can overcome all these real-life obstacles and find better answers?
Just as pretend play is more valuable for building problem-solving skills, creativity, and intelligence in children than electronic media, most adults today could benefit from unplugging and exploring a bit more. Time and space are key components for imagination building, but can often be the hardest resources to come by. We need to make the effort and block off time that’s completely free of technology, read for pleasure or go outdoors, and let our poor tired minds wander. As Dee Hock, the founder of Visa said, “Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.” When distractions are pushed out, we may be surprised at the new ideas that come in.
2. Stretch yourself
We all have routines, we know what works, and we’re good at the things we practice. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s important not to get too comfortable if we want to build creativity. When we play a new sport, try a new hobby, or learn a new skill, the unfamiliarity can be uncomfortable, but that’s all part of growing our imaginations. Just as kids learn new ideas and skills on a daily basis, when we open ourselves up to new experiences, we get more comfortable with the thought of new ideas. And those new ideas just might include the answer we were looking for.
3. Don’t be afraid to be wrong
Inevitably when we stretch ourselves, we’re going to fail and we’re going to get things wrong. If we’re not prepared to be wrong, we can never get to a place where we come up with anything original. We rely on self control, process, and prior knowledge to protect us from making mistakes, and subsequently convince ourselves that we’re not capable of creative thought. When we channel our inner child that laughs when they fall down or finds joy in the mess they’ve unintentionally made, we can work past being “wrong” into being inventive. Ideas may sound crazy, or may not be executed exactly as we planned, but we learn from our missteps and build on those “wrong” ideas to get to the right ones.
4. Let go of preconceived ideas
When a child sees a box, the possibilities before her are endless. Perhaps it’s a castle or a cave; maybe it’s a giant ship or car; it could be a canvas for drawing or a suit of armor. She doesn’t have preconceived notions of what a box should be or how she can make it that way. Sometimes we just need to start from scratch and forget everything we think we know. We can start with a blank slate, look at it from several perspectives, and figure out just what we need our box to be.
5. Find inspiration from others
We know that kids look to their peers for inspiration, whether it’s trying a fun game they’ve observed or wanting to dress like a classmate. In the same way, we can learn from our peers and be inspired by others’ greatness. The next great idea will never come from copying something a peer has already done, but we can take inspiration from other industries, companies, and people, and apply that to our own problem in a new way that’s all our own.
At almost every company and organization, there is a constant effort to be better, have better ideas, and better implementation. If we can learn from the children around us and unleash our creativity, we can stretch our imaginations to find better solutions and create amazing things.