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Lessons from the Playground

Want a clue on how to revitalize your organization? How to end stagnation and breathe new life into your team? How about “youth-enizing” the old ways and declare recess. Recapture the curiosity, passion, playfulness, creativity, inhibition, open-mindedness and honesty of childhood.


I attended a conference a few years ago and a hot topic was "How to Play and Enjoy Life."  Ironically, just as I passed the room where the leader was trying to get a few hundred inhibited adults to participate in a game, I looked out the window and there was a playground with a large group of youngsters jumping, hugging, pushing, laughing and playing. No one had to teach them how to have fun and enjoy life.


Down the hall was a program entitled, "Bringing out the Creativity in You."  On the same playground I watched children imagining that the slide was a spaceship and the sandbox was exotic moonscape. They made up elaborate scripts complete with rules and roles. Creativity poured out of them as effortless as breathing.

The next room had a wonderful program on "Conflict Resolution.” Two of the kids I was watching on the playground were fighting and one yelled that the backside of the sandbox was his property and the other kid just better stay away or else. The other kid retaliated by yelling that he didn’t care. They went nose to nose for a few minutes, then I noticed them later running side by side laughing and chasing two little girls. Children know how to fight and resolve conflict. Say what you want to say, get everything out on the table, then make up and forget it. There are more important things to do.


When do we stop seeing the castles and imagining the possibilities? When did our imagination fade? We had it. When did we get inhibited and equate a disagreement with discord. At one time we were thoroughly engaged in the activities that make up a successful organization. We exhibited the characteristics of leadership. Then, I think, we went to kindergarten. Let’s take a mental journey back there. We can learn a great deal on how to become successful by remembering what we took for granted on the playground.


Here are a few lessons that I recall.


Imagination and creativity. Children have vivid imaginations. Remember when you pretended your back yard was site of an ancient battleground and the rock pile was Mt. Everest? Tap into that ability to visualize possibilities. Adults when given an opportunity to brainstorm will contribute 5-6 ideas…children will deliver 50-60 before they empty out their right brain.


Adaptability. Youngsters adjust to changes with less difficulty than adolescence and adults. There may be a constant, like a favorite toy or blanket, but you can pretty much move them anywhere. Have a constant like a core set of values, then encourage people to be change agents. We need to bring up the comfort level for working in an ever changing environment.


Open, Honest, Constant Communication. Young people are open, frank and, at times, brutally honest. They ask hundreds of questions and constantly inquire with the question, “why?” If you have the same free flow if information throughout the organization there would be more cooperation because people want to know why whether they ask the question or not. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what is on people’s minds before it becomes a problem. To ask people for ideas and have them contribute would be refreshing and potentially fruitful. To ask for honest feedback and get it could help eliminate “group think.” Your organizational leadership could get some very useful input into the decision making/problem solving process if they had the kind of information and number of opinions a child would deliver.


Enthusiasm, excitement, energy and interest. Life is filled with mystery, magic, adventure and fun when we were on the playground. How do we get people to that place on the job? By making the work place interesting. Celebrate successes and professional accomplishments. Sponsor some down time. Give people the opportunity to recharge, renew, relax and refresh. It will give overall productivity a boost.

Acceptance. When faced with diversity, other children who are different, kids are more curious than suspicious, more inquisitive than intimidated, more accepting than intolerant. Many times they don’t even notice the differences in language, skin color or abilities. All people of all backgrounds should learn to play together to make up the mosaic of individual parts blended into a whole. Children are nonjudgmental. Having an organization aspire to that would be very beneficial.


Persistence. Children are determined and less fearful of failure. An infant does not give up if she falls down the first 200 times she tires to walk.  She picks herself off the floor and keeps on trying. Can you imagine yourself being as persistent as a child? When did we lose this incredible willfulness and resilience? Try to recapture some of that resolve. 


I’m sure you can come up with several more lessons. Take some tome to think about it. Watch a team of children for clues. Much of life becomes more complex as we get older. Simplify your organization and its relationships. Are you looking for a morale booster? Go back to when things were less complicated. Declare recess. Go back to the playground.