In 1990, Robert Fulghum had a surprise hit book. It was a list of simple rules for living that he called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things. The book is still available, but quick summaries can be found online, such as this one by Kali Munro, who is a psychotherapist.
Fulghum’s genius was to take very parental and very pre-school statements such as “clean up your own mess” and “say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody” and show that these platitudes apply as well to people of a much older age. I enjoyed his book 20+ years ago, but I admit that I did not think all that much about it until I saw an equally valuable (though much shorter) set of thoughts by Jeff Hoffman (who once served as CEO of Virtual Shopping, Inc.). Titled “Think Like a 5-Year Old (the Best Leaders Do)”, Hoffman recounts the day he took to work with him his five-year-old niece. Turns out, the young girl was typical of kids that age and asked many, many questions — some of which were tied to the workings of Hoffman’s workplace. Soon thereafter, Hoffman assembled his associates and issued an atypical corporate request:
So here’s what I did. I told my employees that I wanted us all to find our child-like sense of wonder again, and to start to ask basic questions about the way we did business. They loved the idea, even before they saw the results. And you know what? It worked. For example, those two things my niece saw? They were collating machines that no one had used in years. The person who ordered them no longer worked for us. And even worse — they were on a monthly lease!
Hoffman concludes with one of those questions guaranteed to bug you for a long time: “Do you still wonder about things the way you did when you were a child? Or do you walk past the same scenes every day, never pausing to notice what’s what. Make it a point to stop, wonder, and ask an endless stream of questions. They’ll lead you somewhere, I promise.”
You may be wondering why I titled this post “Why Dani Can’t Nextsense”. The reason is that I encounter many workers and managers, male or female (whom I will generically call “Dani”), and the main obstacle that keeps most of them from discovering better ways of doing things in the future is that they have lost their childlike sense of wonder.
A childlike sense of wonder and an endless curiosity are fabulous underpinnings for observing, which is a core skill needed to engage the nextsensing process. Sadly, too many people (or the organisations they work for) come to feel at a certain age that asking dumb questions is impolitic, unbecoming, or both. Over the years I have told many to “go out and find someone in the workplace doing something good — then tell them you appreciate their work.” What happened? Many were shocked at the request. “This organisation doesn’t work that way!” they fire back. “We’re trained to find people who are making mistakes.”
Such behaviour is but a symptom of what people lose as they grow older and go to work. They get so used to their surroundings that they no longer see their own “collating machines”. They accept the way work is currently processed as THE way, the ONLY way. They go to work each day expecting commands and resisting the urge to ask questions. Is there any way to fight this wall of maturity that keeps firms from being happier (and more progressive) places to work? Let me propose a variation of the request made by Jeff Hoffman.
Go forth and wonder. What would it be like if you and your entire organisation spent one week playing the “wonder game”? The only rule is that everyone must actively wonder about everything at the company: all the daily tasks, all the office designs, all the work processes, all the ways the firm engages its customers. The following week, someone should solicit from all both their concerns and ideas, then follow up with a compiled list for everyone to review — and, if warranted, act upon. Done constructively and with the right spirit, such an exercise will invariably lead to at least one change (and, probably, many changes) that will more than likely pay off handsomely. And, if you have ever wanted to reinvigorate employee involvement, this is a fantastic way to do it.
It’s simply impossible to nextsense if you have a closed mind. And, when all wonder and curiosity have been drained from the workplace, then closed minds are running the operations. And I’m certainly not the first to say this: a closed mind is a good thing to lose.