Act Like a Kid and Get More Done

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Nick D'Aloisio who developed the smartphone news app Summly, poses for a photograph in central London

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
― Albert Einstein

You may not have seen the story in the news, but a 17-yr old kid (pictured above) just sold his company to Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer for a reported $30 million dollars.

I’m not sure about you, but I’m relatively certain that my focus was more centered around girls, cool cars, and video games than developing a news aggregator app when I was in high school. I played with my Nintendo 64 far more than I ever looked at the computer – dial-up was far too slow back then anyway. I certainly didn’t have the intellectual capacity to negotiate or market a multi-million dollar deal with one of the biggest companies in technology (and secure jobs for my entire team nonetheless).

Kids are extremely amazing. They are able to think, do, and accomplish some unbelievable and surprising tasks. As the show “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and the new AT&T commercials (It’s not complicated) pumping through the airwaves have proved, kids are also quite entertaining to watch. For one, they have no filter over what comes out of their mouth. Two, they have some absolutely incredible ideas. Three, they are persistent as hell.

Compare that to the average adult:

  • Cares what other people think and has developed a filter over what you can and cannot say
  • Think mainly in one dimension and rarely let their creativity go wild
  • Usually pursues something until it becomes too difficult then backs down

It’s all part of an evolutionary process that we have learned as we’ve grown up. Work hard in school, avoid pissing too many people off, make friends with the right crowd, and eventually submit the job application that scores your life-long career. Create enough to build some successful projects but avoid ruffling any feathers that could get you booted from your desk and land you the corner office in the basement with a pay decrease.

It’s successful to a point, but what if we started thinking like kids? What if we just went for it and tried something different?

Here are three reasons you should revert back to your childhood days to get more done:

1. Unparalleled Creativity

Let’s face it: kids are far more creative than their adult counterparts regardless of whether we are talking about daydreams, big ideas, or creative uses for a paperclip.

You’ve likely heard of the paperclip test (otherwise known as the Alternative Use Test), but just in case you haven’t, here are the very basic instructions:

How many uses can you think of for a paperclip?

I challenge you to do this on your own as it’s a very humbling experience. Take a moment, grab a blank sheet of paper, and begin to write. Don’t worry. I promise this likely won’t take long. The first time I took this test, I came up with somewhere between 15-20 answers. Most people will come up with somewhere between 10-15. Kids, however, can come up with 200 plus. (Other tests here if you’re interested.) The extra “answers” lie in expanding your default idea of a paperclip. Can the paperclip be 200 feet tall and made out of bendable rubber?

The reason you likely had trouble lies in what’s referred to as divergent thinking – the ability to see a ton of solutions to a certain problem. Adults, by and large, lose their ability to think divergently after awhile. When you focus on one item and one solution, you lose your ability to come up with a variety of solutions to the same problem. The result: a group of adults that brainstorm on a task only come up with 3-4 potential solutions when in reality the page should be filled front to back with some wild ideas.

Your solution: Think like a kid.

Adults often get caught up in solving particular tasks so much so that they become narrow-minded and focused solely on the project at hand. This can be great for solving problems right now, but it doesn’t open your mind up to the wide range of possibilities that exist.

Creativity is a skill that we are all born with but it takes practice (more as you get older) to stay fresh in your mind.

2. No Regard for Limits

If you’ve ever spoken with a young kid concerning a problem or idea, you’ll know that they often come up with the most outrageous solutions. Not only are they creative, they think and exist in a fantasy world where nearly everything is possible. Stress virtually doesn’t exist to them in the same way it does to adults. They have no regard for quantity of resources, money, etc. They fail to recognize limitations. Whereas it’s easy for me to sit here and think that it would be damn near impossible to sell a company to Yahoo for $30 million dollars, they think “why not”.

This feasibility aspect holds us back from coming up with fantastic solutions because we’re too worried about how they will work out in the end.

We need to think “why not” more often than “why”.

Your solution: Think like you dream.

In your dreams, you can fly, run faster than you ever thought possible, jump from building to building, and take on a huge group of thugs single-handedly only to walk away unscathed. Your dreams have a loose backing on reality but expand upon that to create the entire experience. Put aside limitations for a second and think like your dream world.

Write down your dreams as soon as you wake up in the morning (detailed explanation by Anthony Mychal). As Anthony explains in detail (and Tim Ferriss further explains in his interview with Fred Waitzkin), everyone has the ability to recall their dreams. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced. If you write down your dreams first thing in the morning, you’ll grow accustomed to remembering them and thus it will make the whole recall process much easier. Your dreams give you a glimpse into your subconscious – what you’re really thinking about and want to do.

3. Insatiable Curiosity

Watch a young kid move around for a few minutes and you’ll notice two things: they will climb/walk/crawl on and over literally anything, and they will put anything in their mouths. It’s their way of learning about objects and finding out about the world around them.

Please don’t put everything in your mouth (that could end poorly), but I challenge you to approach everything with the curiosity of little kid. Wonder how things work and then figure it out. Learn about something you’re unfamiliar with. Go to new places and get completely lost – chances are your smartphone can help you figure out where you are in the end. Travel where you want and then ditch the welcome pamphlet for the advice of the native. Ask a local where they eat, stay, and go.

You’ll probably find out two things:

  1. Some things just aren’t as good as people say they are.
  2. Other experiences will rock your world and you’ll wonder how you ever got on before them.

Your solution: Pick one thing you love to do and learn about it.

My pick is coffee (reading book featured here and interviewing roaster for an article). What’s yours? Whatever it is, research the topic, read a book about it, then go ask experts in the area questions and write them down. If you’re trying to learn about wine, go get tipsy at a winery talking with the owner and workers. I guarantee they will have no problems answering questions if they are passionate about their work.

I want to hear from you. Are you envious of any qualities that kids possess? Think these could help with success? Have you ever written down your dreams?

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