Vacation . . .

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

There’s a 17 month old boy running around our vacation home. He is just full of joy and curiosity. Everything is exciting and needs to have a word attached to it. He is adding words to his vocabulary at an amazing rate. The adults seem not to be able to move fast enough to “baby proof” the place or answer all the questions about “whatz at?” When did we grow out of that joy and insatiable curiosity? How do we get it back?Isaac Hinton

And what the heck am I doing blogging on vacation? Well actually, it’s part of my answer to the question previously posed. For me, part of the creativity I’ve purposely pursued in my life is to commit to continuous learning and writing, which includes frequent blog posts. More importantly, my recent reading of Daniel Pink’s new book, Drive has started me thinking about how we can build environments in our businesses that encourage our employees and ourselves to keep that child-like curiosity and creativity.

I don’t have the answers, but I know this: we start brainwashing our children early through our well-intentioned, but flawed education process. Instead of keeping that innate curiosity, creativity and free thinking, we do all we can to confine their brilliant minds into a box that we believe is the correct view of the world. I think some of that would happen anyway, as children learn more about the world through their own experiences, but we seem to accelerate that process with our concept of what we think has to be taught about the “real world.” I’m reminded of the story about that problematic school child “Johnny,” always a problem for the teachers. He never pays attention (or so they think anyway), and is in constant need of discipline. Like the day he was staring out the window instead of listening to the teacher. “What are you doing?” asked the teacher. “Oh, just thinking,” replied Johnny. “You KNOW you’re NOT SUPPOSED TO THINK in school!” was the thoughtless reply from the exasperated teacher. And that’s how we’ve also tried to organize our businesses – don’t think, just follow the policies and procedures. We’ll do the thinking for you. How is that working for you? Especially here in the U.S. when we believe we will be the intellectual capital provider of the world, instead of the world’s manufacturer of “things.”

Like I said, I don’t have all the answers. I know we need to start with changing our education process. And we also need to change our work environments. Our job as leaders has to be that we do our best to influence how our education system, starting at a very young age, encourages creativity, free thinking (no more brainwashing please), foundation-only rules and regulations and always, always questions our answers and assumptions. While we’re doing that, we also need to change our workplaces to encourage the same things. The lessons are clear, even in manufacturing we’re finding that we have to allow creativity of our workers. We need to give them clear expected outcomes and let them figure out how to achieve them.

Seems like an insurmountable task – because we adults are so locked into our view of the world. How can we lead others to be free thinkers and creative when we have such a fixed view of the way things are? Part of the answer for me is continuous education, always questioning my own views, answers and assumptions. It’s not easy, and I frequently fail. But I insist on trying. What are your thoughts? How will you build the right environment for the 21st century?