Why you should be more childlike at work

Unleashing your inner toddler might seem like mad behaviour, but minus the tantrums it makes a lot of sense.

by Jessica Kruger
Last Updated: 27 Mar 2017

Typically I would not pick up a business book espousing lessons that can be gleaned from young children - I tend to prefer KPIs to lullabies. However timing, as entrepreneur and author Paul Lindley points out, is one of the most under-valued elements in both business and in life. And so it happened that his new book, Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler, fell in to my lap at the precise moment that I was embarking upon a new business venture. 'Go on, why not?' I thought to myself, and decided to give it the time of day. And boy, am I glad I did: I have found it to be an unexpectedly and delightfully invigorating read.

Lindley is the founder of Ella's Kitchen, a marvellously successful children's food company that has outwitted and outperformed its multinational peers. His atypical method - which suggests that thinking more like a toddler can help us achieve more - resulted in the sale of Ella's Kitchen for more than $100 million in just over seven years since founding.

I know, I know. I'm as fatigued as you are with every new business book out there screaming for attention, noisily jangling the golden keys to success and expecting us to lap up their 'new' secret elixir. So what's so special about Little Wins then?

Well, the jargon for starters is pretty entertaining as Lindley wryly pokes fun at how seriously we take our adulthood. How many books will implore you to 'grow down' (as opposed to 'grow up')? Or how many times have you heard the phrase 'play-deprived adults'? Not many, I'm guessing. Or how about this quote (and I'll wager that the message it sends will have you reading it twice): 'If you were to say that you had stopped playing because play is for children, no one would bat an eyelid. But if you said that you had stopped learning because only kids have to learn, the response would be rather different.'

It's provocative stuff. And while the tone and format of the book may well be playful, the research is solid with Lindley frequently citing studies from academic sources to back up his reasoning.

We are challenged to review our assumption that adulthood is the highest form of being and forced to reflect upon why the 'supposedly adult virtues of self-control, discipline and deference' are prioritised without thought for what we are leaving behind. Lindley lauds the toddler - their curiosity, creativity, sociability - showing us how and why their simple, creative and innocent approach holds surprising lessons that can be applied to a variety of interactions.

For example, as children we're taught (or perhaps scolded) to 'grow up' to become the adults we are today. However in doing so we often become victims of routine and leave behind an enormously important set of talents, which could enrich and enhance the way we do business. Things like play time, single-minded determination, uninhibited creativity and a genuine curiosity about the world are all things that as adults we relegate to the domain of childhood. But we shouldn't. They very much have a place in adult and business life too, and having read Lindley's work I am now as convinced of this as he is.

The book is peppered with exercises that we time-poor adults may be tempted to skip over. But take it from me - don't. You'll come across the '30-circle test' for example. It's really good fun, superbly frustrating and highly revealing. You'll see how right Lindley is.

As much as he's a dreamer, Lindley is also a pragmatist. He's not asking us to become born-again toddlers. He'll concede sooner than anyone that toddlers can be capricious little varmints and he is not encouraging adult tantrums to be played out on the office floor. Far from it. The clue is in the title: it's about little wins. He is simply offering a fresh approach that can help us all to be 'more creative, by pushing harder at the invisible boundaries we impose on our lives and careers'. Incorporating just a few elements from your former toddler days can be beneficial and give you an edge, because 'having fun doesn't have to be frivolous. It can be a central part of how you win'.

The book has been on my mind a lot since I finished it a few weeks ago. It's opened up my world to thinking more in terms of 'why not?' and 'what if?' I've learned that growing down and looking at the world again through the same eyes I did as a toddler may well be even more important than growing up.

Jessica Kruger is the founder of Ethos restaurant in London. Her new project is a range of sustainable accessories called Sydney Brights

Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler by Paul Lindley is published by Portfolio Penguin, £9.99

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