When I look back on my career as a teacher, I often reflect on the fact that I had learnt more from the children I taught than I ever taught them. I hope that doesn't sound like the confession of a rubbish educator. I used to marvel at their way of dealing with the world, which for some, given the communities I worked in, was tough! I used to be constantly amazed by their levels of creativity, of their abilities to collaborate, to communicate and to absorb pressure. They were also experts at thriving during periods of uncertainty and change.
I remember, when I was at University, one of my lecturers explaining that we learn somewhere between 70 and 75% of everything we learn in our lifetime before we're 5 years old. Before I get thousands of comments about the knowledge and skill we acquire through life, think about it for a minute...
Most of us learn to walk and talk, to understand vocal intonation and facial expression. We make sense of the sensory world around us, we learn to negotiate and to manipulate. If we are born into multilingual homes, we pick up all of the languages we hear spoken. We are learning machines!
Over the last few months, I have worked in a number of organisations, as they explore culture and developing future proof approaches to talent and development. I keep coming back to those incredible little people and know that now more than ever, if we could harness the way they see the world and interact with it, we could create extraordinary work places that would respond to so many of the challenges we face on a personal and professional level.
I was once described as "The Walt Disney of the Classroom", and I have decided that it is time for me to return to that period of my professional life to support organisations in evolving cultures fit for the challenges of today and the uncertainties of tomorrow.
To that end, I am writing a new book on the subject, recording a brand new podcast series which will explore the strategies and links, both will all be available in 2024, but for starters, here are some things to think about.
Encourage people to be curious, to question and to play with stuff. Remember we learn nothing new by getting something right, we only ever learn or develop something new, from the point of a mistake or the realisation that we don't know something or cant do something.
Find joy in simple things. Watching leaves fall, singing in a car when you're alone, breaking the seal on a new pack of coffee and breathing in the aroma. As young children, we joy everywhere, because we don't believe that it can only be found in expensive things, or premium experiences. Find time in the working day to look for simple pleasures.
Be accepting. Children don't form judgements that require them to filter who they may or may not get on with, they aren't superficial. They are supreme networkers, they see everyone as a potential friend, someone to play and learn with. Encourage networking across teams and departments, get people to go and have a coffee with someone they don't know. Don't allow hierarchy or perception to get in the way.
Don't bottle it up. So much of our tension and frustration in the workplace comes from saying and behaving in ways that we think are correct rather than allowing people to be honest. Children scream when they're angry and squeal with joy when they're happy. They communicate how they are and that draws support. Create more emotionally honest environments and that may mean you model it first.
Live in the now. So much of our stress and pressure comes from the perception of what needs to be done and when, of feeling guilty when we stop just to breathe. Children are brilliant at living in the moment, it is why they reset so fast. When you or a member of your team is facing challenge, take a moment. Just look at the sky, look at the pictures on your phone that make you happy, give yourself a little time to just be.
Embrace your passions. "I'm going to do that when I retire." Too often, we see doing the things we are passionate about as a rare reward for surviving our working lives. How could we weave them in to what we do every day. How could we find time to engineer experiences, in the workplace, that make our hearts beat just a little faster?
The Good Old Days are made now. When we face a challenge, we often find comfort in nostalgia, and nostalgia is often focused on simple moments of innocence and joy; a cuddle, a smell, a piece of music or a familiar old film, that worn old jumper or a cup of something sweet and lovely you've not drunk since childhood. Don't rush away from a moment of joy you experience now... drink it in . If you have a win in the workplace, don't move on too fast, luxuriate in the feeling, share it, celebrate it, you are creating new nostalgia.
Watch out for limiting beliefs. Too often, we are taught that logic is THE currency of clever, that we must always be pragmatic and realistic. Children dream about the things they are going to do and achieve, because it's encouraged, because they don't see the limitations or the barriers of logic. Innovation comes from giving it a go, not from stopping because there is no way that would ever work.
Be bold. As children, we jump, climb, play with spiders and try new stuff. We are brave, in that we don't worry about what might happen before it does. We are relatively fearless. Too often as adults we procrastinate because of what we think might happen rather than trusting that we can learn from the experience and find joy in the adventure. What's the old saying? Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Savour it all. One of my favourite books of all time is Bronnie Ware's incredibly poignant Top five Regrets of the Dying: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life... by Ware, Bronnie (amazon.co.uk). From her time as a palliative care nurse and the conversations she was fortunate enough to have with those living through their last days, she identified that people would say that;
1) “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
2) “I wish I hadn't worked so hard.”
3) “I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.”
4) “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
5) “I wish I had let myself be happier”
We need to all spend longer, individually and as colleagues, supporting one another
to develop a culture that promotes the simple joys of childhood and of a life lived.
If you are interested in these insights and would like to hear more. Please sign up to my newsletter on the website or contact Michael Levey firstname.lastname@example.org to speak at your next event.