5 entrepreneur lessons from the playground

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “youth is wasted on the young”, but why not learn from younger generation. Following are five lessons I’ve relearned by observing how kids interact.

Every new person you meet is a potential new friend

We all have friends and we tend to congregate with them but why not include every person you bump into in what you’re doing. On the playground, kids are always happy to add new people to whatever game they’re playing. By comparison, at conferences, some people tend to congregate only with the people they know and fail to see that the new people can become new sources of inspirations, and new friends.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to new people as you never know what that new contact may bring. In my own experience, everyone I meet always has something to contribute to me and everyone is capable of doing something great, as long as they follow their heart. So I’m always interested in meeting new people and learning about their experience because my life gets enriched so much by such interactions.

Tools don’t have to be used as everyone uses them

Innovation always comes from people looking at a pre-established market or tool and thinking of how it could be done “better”. Kids do not look at things as being better or worse; They look at them as tools that can be used in different ways.

The carton box is the best example of this, a reality that what eventually realized by adults, who inducted it in the toy hall of fame (and eventually wrote a great book, “Not a Box“, about its potentials.)

In the same way, the internet was initially designed as a tool for military communication and it was because some people decided to look at it differently that it became what we know of it today.

Think about a different use what something around you today and you may find the root of the next great innovation.

There are no boundaries, only obstacles

Too many adults get paralyzed by fear. In talking to people who are sitting comfortably in jobs they don’t like and not looking to make a change, I’ve discovered an underlying amount of fear that leaves those people unable to even plan for a way out of their quandary.

Kids don’t fully appreciate the danger in some of their action and, as a result, act more fearlessly than adults would. Caution goes out the window and sometimes they end up getting hurt in the process. But, in a lot of those cases, after a quick cry to deal with the pain of falling, they pull themselves back up and throw themselves back into the task.

The secret here is that they don’t look at the world as one with boundaries. Instead they look at the world as one with possible obstacles that need to be surmounted.

John Gilmore once said “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” One could argue that such a statement was naive but we’ve learned that routing around damage or obstacles is a good way to make progress. As a result, adults should learn from kids and rediscover that obstacles are mostly in our minds.

As A., who works for a top Wall Street firm, told me recently, “I’d love to do a startup but I can’t afford the risk: I’d have to cut back on vacations and get rid of our sports club membership to reduce my spending and my wife and children would kill me for it.” The same person revealed to me at another point in that conversation that he didn’t really enjoy what he was doing and longed to get the excitement one would get working for a startup.

The truth is that such a person would be a great addition to a startup IF he managed to get rid of his fears, which work as his own obstacle to fulfilling his desire for a better type of life.

Most boundaries are of our making: destroy them and your universe will expand exponentially.

Life is simple

For kids, life is very simple: there are things you like and things you don’t. They are clear about their intents and interests and they have no problems voicing their likes and dislikes.

Adults sometimes think too much about ulterior motives. There’s always a focus on figuring out the story behind the story. What if there weren’t one? What if you were to focus on being honest in all your interactions? Wouldn’t it make business more efficients and any interactions more enjoyable?

Failing is not failure

One of the great things about playgrounds is that one gets to see many kids deal with similar issues in different ways.

On a recent trip to the playground with my sound, I observed a much younger child, probably two or three year old, who was trying to climb a tricky park of a jungle gym. And the jungle gym would foil most of his attempts, with the net result being that the kid would end up, in a lot of cases face-first, on the ground. And yet, he seemed to be having the time of his life, looking at each fall as just another step towards figuring out how to pass that obstacle.

I have to say that this is a trait where my adopted country, the USA, is far ahead of the rest of the world. In this country, entrepreneurs are not penalized for failing and can try again if they’ve failed in the past. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, as Robert Scoble shows in this interview with a Dutch entrepreneur.

In a way, this ties with the previous point as the fear of failing is what keeps a lot of people from making changes. But what would you do if you gave yourself permission to fail? What if you thought of not trying as a type of failure in itself?

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