How to think like an innovator

by Daniel Batten on November 16, 2009

I’ve been reading John Holt’s “How Children Fail”. It is a fascinating read not just for parents but anyone who wants to understand where your tendency to “know” things that you do not apply it to your life comes from. In it, Holt tells the story of going to Holland Park in London. The playground was full of trees, rope-swings and other “dangerous” stuff. When Holt asked if they ever had any accidents, the young supervisors said “Not since we told the parents they couldn’t come in.” They explained that the moment the adults stepped in, they would echo “don’t do this” and “you’ll fall”. This would cause the children to get rattled, and down they’d come with a crash.

So the people in charge of the playground built a little waiting area where parents could sit and talk but could not see their children. Since then, their most serious injury was a mildly sprained ankle. Holt observed that left alone, children make very prudent choices. In being adventurous, some risk was required, but the children learned how to be cool and collected in risky situations.

In adult life – be it relationships, business or our career, there are so many situations where we fail to take calculated risk because of some variant of the “don’t fall” message in our heads. Remember that left to your own devices you are smarter and more collected than many “teachers” in your life may have given you credit for. Remember also that controlled risk-taking is not a personality-trait, it is our very nature. It is how all accelerated learning occurs. Children learn to walk because they don’t understand what “failure is”. They learn to talk because they don’t understand judgement and ridicule.

If you want accelerated learning in any realm, learn to learn like a child again.

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