In Little Wins, Paul Lindley explains just how much grown-ups can learn from toddlers when it comes to getting ahead. We put his theory to the test by asking our panel of four and five year-old experts for their thoughts on the world of work.
Meet the panel
1. OK guys, first question: what do you want to be when you grow up?
Pierre: I want to be an astronaut.
Oto: An art teacher.
Heidi: Loads of things... a farmer... I want to be a school teacher.
Evangeline: A person without any husband or baby and with a pet. Or a doctor.
Patrick: I want to go to work. I want to take a bucket with me to help people when they are sick. My job will be to catch their vomit with the bucket.
Paul says: What shines through here is the imagination and self-confidence that toddlers have when they think about their futures. Too often, as adults, we agonize over difficult decisions; we seek reassurance and hedge our bets. For toddlers, the world is a place of clarity and simplicity.
2. Why do you think you'll be good at those jobs?
Pierre: Because I love to go in space and because the job is good.
Oto: Because I’ve been drawing a lot and writing and I’ll be really good because I’m already like an artist. Because I’ve been doing drawing since I was three. I like all of the designs. I want to be something that’s art, and a teacher, so I can be an art teacher. Because I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, it looks really fun, and when they eat their pudding I will say no all the time. When they say, "please can I eat my pudding?" I will say, "no, have some more vegetables". That’s it.
Heidi: Because we are doing loads of writing. I write a lot so that's why I think I can be a teacher and because I use my sounds and I use my tricky words.
Evangeline: Because it will be cool and amazing and I'll get to see stuff about the body.
Patrick: Because I think so.
Paul says: I particularly love Patrick’s answer! They have all made decisions quickly, easily and with an unswerving confidence, asking: Will it make me happy? Does it use my best skills? As adults we should take inspiration from that clarity of thinking.
3. Does it matter if you make mistakes?
Pierre: Yes it matters.
Heidi: No because then you can write on a different piece of paper. But if you're a teacher you might not make mistakes.
Oto: No, because I can do what I want. Get a rubber and rub it out. It’s just an accident, no big thing.
Paul says: Oto and Heidi nail it! Their innate understanding that to make mistakes is to be human is inspiring. I love the image that, for most things in life, there will always be another piece of paper, or a rubber to start again…
4. What would you invent to make the world better?
Pierre: I would invent a machine of kisses.
Oto: I don’t even know how to invent! (Thinks) Satellites! Because if you didn’t have a satellite nothing will work and everything will go off and you might even die. If there wasn’t a satellite even if you tried to fix things that are electric they won’t even fix without satellites.
Patrick: I would invent the whole world.
Evangeline: I do NOT know. Maybe... um... nothing.
Heidi: I would make a sun machine to make it sunny every day and when it's night time I'll make the moon shine and it's called a moon sun machine.
Paul says: Unfettered creativity! Seriously, why isn’t there a machine of kisses or a sun machine? Toddlers are life’s great experimenters, they defy convention because they don’t know it exists. Many corporate strategies and product development processes could benefit from a sprinkle of this creative thinking.
5. What makes people happy?
Pierre: Kisses, kisses, and kisses.
Heidi: Because you've done loads of writing.
Evangeline: This is what makes me happy: me hugging my toy mousey, and drawing with my sister. I like that as well. This is the other thing that makes me happy: hugging mummy! And when my friends at school are all around me and playing with me.
Patrick: If I give them something what I don't need and they need it. That makes them happy.
Oto: Cuddling them. Saying sorry. Sometimes when you’re really sad people give you stickers, like once I had to go to after school club and I was crying and Miss M gave me a sticker and then I liked it but Miss M said, "no more crying otherwise I will take it back", so that’s how you make people happy. Saying sorry, giving them a cuddle. Giving them a cuddle and saying sorry at the same time. Giving them kisses.... You need a brain. A head to think of things. Mum, are there actually people inside your head?
Paul says: I think there are, Oto...
6. What is the best way to make friends?
Patrick: On a piece of paper. I will draw a friend.
Pierre: The best way to make friends is playing with them.
Oto: Talking to each other and then saying, "do you want to be my best friend?" and if you hold hands you might make friends, or if you cuddle each other. If you already like them and you’re not best friends… do something together like have a visit to their house. Poo bum. Wait, did you write that again? Why do you keep on writing that? What did you write after that? Mum? What are you writing, this is supposed to be for me! I only said "poo bum".
Heidi: Hmm that's tricky...to be kind.
Evangeline: Walk up to someone and say, "what's your name?" and get to know them and get to like each other and then you become friends.
Paul says: Kindness is always big in the life of a toddler, but somehow less big in the life of an adult. Studies have shown that, from around the age of two, children are more likely to work together than to solve problems on their own – a lot of corporate cultures could benefit from that innate impulse to involve others.
7. What things are children better at than grown ups?
Pierre: Children are more agile than grown ups.
Heidi: Writing...no... drawing
Evangeline: I think adults are better at most stuff. But children are better at playing.
Oto: Drawing. All craft things. Being silly. I can be sillier than you. Let’s do a silly competition see if I’m right. I know the actions I’m definitely going to do, I know you will laugh on mine. The end. That’s it.
Paul says: They are quite right – toddlers are the world’s best creative thinkers! In his famous TED Talk Do Schools Kill Creativity? Sir Ken Robinson highlights research showing that, while only 2% of 25 year-olds think divergently, 98% of 3-5 year olds do.
Psychologist Stuart Brown, founder of the California-based National Institute for Play, suggests that adults are just as affected by play deprivation as children, leaving them "rigid, humorless, inflexible and closed to trying out new options".
Well, there's something to think about. Forget growing up - maybe we should all just concentrate on growing down.