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.”bigstock-An-handsome-indian-kid-looking-38947444v2

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.

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