What lessons can we learn from children in developing our own creative curiosity?
As a child you were curious. As a child you were creative. And, it’s no stretch of the imagination to see that the two things could be connected. It’s often said that the creative adult is the child who survived, however when faced with budgets, focus groups and client expectations, it’s more likely that the child in you is sulking in a corner somewhere when presented with a creative challenge in the workplace. And, whilst targets and guidelines help to measure results and keep a project focused, they can prevent you from trusting that instinctual childlike curiosity, forcing you to pursue a safer, more cost-effective line of creative inquiry that offers only partial personal fulfilment.
Creating a workplace culture that cultivates curiosity, however, will let that inner child thrive, enabling creatives to work unbound and with enthusiasm, minimising frustrated temper tantrums to produce their best work. Start by revisiting the days of childhood wonder and exploration, and you might begin to see a positive impact on how you generate ideas and the way you work a lot sooner than you think:
Things curious kids do that you should be doing?
Asking ‘why?’ Oh, the joys! Winding up your parents, teachers and siblings with the endless stream of asking ‘why?’ over and over again. Amusing. Annoying. Frustrating. But, you and your curiosity were really on to something.
There is a lot of merit in asking ‘why?’ out loud, only as an adult, there’s significantly less risk of ending up with a dead arm afterwards. Asking yourself why you are doing something helps you to eliminate external distractions and influences, focussing your attention on the real purpose of your project. Once you understand your reason why, you can tailor your work to your audience in the confidence that you’ve really got to the heart of the brief.
Doing something just to see what happens. Kids love to experiment. They make messes. They build giant towers out of blocks, purely to knock them down and make a noise. They mix colours to make new ones. Sleeves rolled up and hands in the mud. Building, drawing, making…creating through curiosity. The process of finding out ‘what will this do?’ and ‘what will happen if..?’ makes them happy. And, if the resulting outcome doesn’t make them happy, they start again or try something else.
No time wasted over the loss of a half decent sandcastle, they move on, learning from their mistakes, or just simply adding more glitter glue. Adult creatives can learn a lot from this fearless curiosity. Write another draft, have another go, just do and don’t be afraid of making mistakes, learn from them and start again, but never from scratch (and don’t forget the glitter glue).
Go explore. No matter how noisy or ‘runny aroundy’ they may seem, children are actually observers. If you’ve ever tried a short walk with a toddler, you’ll soon realise that it feels a lot longer than it ever has done before. The reason that time feels like it has stood still is that they’re noticing all of the things, all of the time. Taking in the world around them automatically slows their pace, and in a fast-paced deadline driven adult world it might be just the approach we need to access our full creative capacity.
Collecting the ‘best’ sticks for sword fights, turning their heads upside down to get a better view underneath a hedge, and finding the smoothest pebbles to add to a rock collection that puts Stone Henge to shame, those miniature humans admire small details and literally see things from a different perspective. So, take some time to head outdoors and expand your creative space, moving into, testing, and fully appreciating new boundaries bit by bit. You might find answers or inspiration in the most unexpected of places.
Asking ‘what if?’ On a long car journey (once the iPad has lost charge) you may catch a glimpse of a young child staring silently out of the window from the back seat. Lost in their own thoughts, you can almost see the cogs turning and the synapses firing. You ask them, ‘what are you thinking about?’ waiting with bated breath to hear the cognitive processes behind all that time in silence, will it be something revelatory? something profound? And then….
‘What if Superman and a T-Rex had a fight? Who do you think would win?’*
With questions like this, children are asking the ‘what if?’ questions creatives should be asking themselves every day. Stimulating the imagination and generating new ideas, playing out the hypothetical and reaching something innovative and tangible. Ask yourself ‘what if we did it this way..?’ more often and see what you can come up with.
With your next creative project, make your curiosity work harder for you. Find a new way of working within the boundaries of your targets and client expectations, whilst allowing your curiosity to lead you outside of them a little. Make your work easier and more rewarding by asking yourself ‘why?’, slow the pace, try new things without fear of failure, get active, go outdoors and find the answers to those ‘what ifs?’
It’s time to get curious. And, don’t forget to ask yourself ‘What if we had legs for arms and arms for legs?’ to satisfy that inner child from time to time.
*It’s the T-Rex by the way. I have this on good authority following a lengthy debate between a 5 and a 7-year-old.