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Taking creative leadership lessons from my baby girl

Part 2

Two weeks ago, I began describing how closely the natural ways of very young kids go hand in hand with the success mindsets of genius. I modeled these mindsets in Genius Journey, the creative leader development method of Thinkergy.

In part 1 of this two-article episode, I shared that our 16-month old baby girl.Zoë exhibits natural behaviors that align with the mindsets of top creative leaders: 1) Be a courageous, action-oriented, persistent believer. 2) Be yourself. 3) Be open and curious. 4) Be positive and playful. 5) Be passionate. Love what you do.

Today, let’s continue exploring if and to what extent the itsy-bitsy ways of our little ones correspond with the success mindsets of genius. (I share my observations solely on our baby girl. But I noticed that most other babies behave and do things in the same way. I invite you to observe infants in your family or environment to form your own opinion on whether the very young children carry the spirit of genius inside).

Lessons 6 and 7: Young children possess a broadly interested creative mind

Zoë is still too young to express her thoughts verbally. But observing her gives hints of what may be going on in her mind, and what interests her. So what have I noticed? 

Young kids take an interest in almost everything. They enjoy learning broadly about the world, instead of profoundly focusing on one subject as most experts do. In their early years, young kids engage in a broad range of activities: playing alone and with other kids; running and riding wheeled toys; dancing and singing; and drawing and building things, among many others. To sum-up, Zoë and other young kids enjoy developing a broad range of skills and talents. They naturally follow Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences.

Our little daughter Zoë has a highly-developed intuitive mind, too. In many situations, I can spot how she uses her innate creativity to have fun and get her way. When watching her playing with her doll and plush pets, I am positive that she imagines them to be real. 

Zoë also frequently does things that surprise me — another sign of her high innate creativity. For example, one morning, she carried my mobile phone to our bed in an affectionate attempt to wake me up. After I got out of bed and —still tired— sat down on the sofa, Zoë brought me all my clothes. Then, she fetched the backpack we carry along when taking her out. Suddenly, I realized what’s going on. Zoë communicated that she wanted me to bring her to the nursery now. (Then, she can still play with her friends there before they all go for their morning nap.) So, I complied, got dressed and walked to the door, and she followed me all smiles and bright-eyed. 

How does this all compare to the world of business? Over the past two centuries, our western education system has emphasized the development of logical-mathematical intelligence (IQ) and a predominantly rational, analytical mind. This focus equipped workers and managers with functional knowledge and skills needed to function well in the industrial and knowledge economies. 

Moreover, the modern western education system encourages and celebrates domain expertise. Many experts are so specialized that they know everything about their tiny niche — and almost nothing about the world. In contrast, a classical education used to favor a polymath or homo universalis.

Stops 6 and 7 of Genius Journey advocate to live and learn both deeply and broadly, and to cultivate a balanced, integrated mind: 

“Stop being myopic and thinking with only half of your mind. Start thinking integrated with your whole mind.”

“Stop being stuck in the expert tunnel. Start collecting and connecting the dots both deeply and broadly.”

Lessons 8: Young children are living change

Most parents try to establish daily routines for their little ones (e.g., when to eat; take a nap, go to bed). Why is it advisable to create such an orderly framework? Regularity counter-balances the innate drive and high energy of young kids. Infants tend to move, play and do something continually. Such sustained activity allows them to practice and learn new things. Young kids are very flexible in their body and minds, enabling them to evolve so rapidly. Babies personify continuous change. They embody the creativity-empowering mindset at Destination Stop 8 of Genius Journey: 

“Start to move, change and flex yourself.” 

How does this compare with a typical businessperson? Many not only do not adhere to healthy routines but rather are slaves to their daily habits. They do the same things over and over again without embracing the variety of life. While habits can simplify life, they also tend to make our bodies and minds inflexible and inert. They prevent us from trying something new in an ever-changing world. So, avoid the creativity-inhibiting, limiting mindset at Stop 8: 

“Stop being so rigid, inflexible and inert.”

Lessons 9: Young children are present with all their senses

“No Columbus, no Marco Polo has ever seen stranger and more fascinating and thoroughly absorbing sights than the child that learns to perceive, to taste, to smell, to touch, to hear and to see, and to use his body, his senses, and his mind. No wonder that the child shows an insatiable curiosity. He has the whole world to discover,” noted the American psychoanalyst Ernest Schachtel.

Very young children perceive and interact with the world using all their senses. They not only see and hear but also want to touch, smell and taste everything. (Ask any parent how often babies put things in their mouths). Young kids are also fully present in the now. Neither do they reminisce of what they did yesterday nor do they worry about, or look ahead to, tomorrow.

In contrast, many adults often miss out on what’s going on now. At times, their minds look back into the past full of nostalgia (“These were the days…”) or with regret (“I should have …”). At other times, they look forward to the future, either full of worries whether they will still have enough money or good health, or in hopeful anticipation of what they will do when reaching a certain point in future (such as, when the kids flee the nest, or when they retire). In any case, they miss out on the present moment, on what’s happening right now. So, it’s not surprising that their sensory acuity has atrophied, too. Most adults overemphasize their visual and auditory senses, while neglecting the others.

So, young kids like Zoë live by the motto of Destination Stop 9 of Genius Journey:

“Stop living in the past or future. Start focusing on the now with all your senses. Be mindful.

"Start focusing on the now with all your senses."

Lesson 10: Young children apply and then relax themselves

Zoë is action pure and simple. She plays, runs, climbs, and carries things around until she’s completely exhausted and tired. Later, Zoë falls asleep in an instant. In downtime, she recharges and processes everything she’s encountered and learned anew. When she reawakens, she goes back to active mode right away. She applies herself to the activity of the moment until her battery runs down. Then, it’s time again to relax and recharge. 

Our little ones seem to intuitively balance periods of intensive action and total relaxation (sleep). Thereby, complete application and relaxation alternate in a harmonious rhythm. This pattern likely helps kids to get absorbed in an activity and experience states of flow (or be in the “zone,” or find their “Mojo”).

In comparison, modern businesspeople are busy almost all the time. They engage in countless activities at a frantic pace. Nowadays, even if they get a moment to take a breath, they glance at their smartphones. Busy-ness and overload lead to what Marshall Goldsmith calls “No-jo”: no relaxation, no rhythm, no flow, and no breakthroughs. 

Like other young kids, Zoë enjoys the ebb and flow of total action and relaxation that produces flow. So, she naturally embraces the lesson of Destination Stop 10 of Genius Journey:  

“Stop your busy-ness. Stop doing, doing, doing something all the time. Start balancing doing and being in a harmonious rhythm to induce states of flow.”

Conclusion: Learn the ways of genius from our little ones

“Grown men may learn from very little children for the hearts of little children are pure and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people may miss.” Take in these words of wisdom from the Native American Medicine Man Black Elk. 

“If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses,” noted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Being a genius himself, Goethe recognized genius in the eyes of very young kids. So, I invite you to do as the German playwright and philosopher. Openly and curiously observe the ways of babies and young kids. Sooner or later, you’re likely to spot the genius in their eyes, too. And by recognizing and appreciating the ingenuity of very young kids, you take the first step to acknowledge your genius that you exhibited as a very young child, too.  

Are you interested in reconnecting to your inner genius?  Contact us to learn more about Genius Journey and our creative leader development programs. 

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2019