Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why child-likeness for creativity?

Prabhakar L. Head HR of the Agri business division at ITC, a well known HR professional, shared his insight with me today on the linkage between child-likeness and creativity. Thanks to him for the much needed 'elbow in the ribs' that got me writing this article.

Child-like behaviours are characterised by a certain spontaenity, staying in touch with one's emotions, an implicit trust in the people around and playfulness in experimenting. The brain is in a 'toward' mode ( when it senses that Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness are all available in the environment.

One way is to work on the external environment such as culture of the organization to ensure these at the workplace. The other approach is the internal approach where the employees can be 'themselves' in a child-like mental frame and they are not judged based on this, but purely on outcomes. This may be quite possible in a product development environment.

So, what does being a child-like state do to the individual? A child doesn't have a high status need as much as an adult. So, as long as the basics are in place, Status is taken care of.

Certainty is possibly not something a child is habituated to - of course - other than the basic routines. Child-likeness means that I am pretty much in the 'here and now' and the certainty need is addressed as well.

Autonomy. Child-likeness doesn't wait for autonomy to be granted. It is assumed as available.

Relatedness. Relationships are created. Belief is that others are relatable and I need to reach out.

Fairness. This could be a tricky situation for adults, but a child-likeness means that I express my displeasure when I think there is a lack of fairness.

With SCARF taken care of, the brain naturally slips into a toward state. This is required for the brain to start concentrating on 'nothing particular', but keeping the solution focus in one's awareness. This leads to a inward looking state of the brain that precedes insights. Insights create deeper awareness, understanding and problem solving which are components of what is finally called creativity.

What can I do as a leader to ensure creativity in my team?

Start by donating $20 to charity everytime you start a sentence with 'but', 'however' or 'No'. Try it for a day. It effectively kills the habit. When you stop using these sentence starters, you start listening without judging. That is a good start as a leader.

You can start being child-like. This means that you need to address your own insecurities that hold you back from being child-like. If you find it difficult, you can take help from a peer or a coach.

Start celebrating. Celebrate, acknowledge, appreciate. Child-likeness requires generosity. The world has enough space for all of us and creativity creates even more space for yourself and for others. When you create space, others reciprocate.

You have fun!

A second career to make your first one a success

When coaching a young successful technical contributor, at the outset it seemed that all was very well. He was respected by his seniors, his peers came to him for advice, he was mentoring youngsters in his team and was earning a neat sum of money. Yet, there was a sense of a region of vacuum in his life. While talking about the best times in his life, he said that he particular had enjoyed a stint in an earlier company when a boss had mentored him in creating open source code. While he continued to be mentored occasionally by the very same gentleman, his eyes flashed when he realized that what he missed was working on open source code.

Needless to say, he devoted an hour to what nourished him deeply and he became a much more engaged and fulfilled professional at work.

Activities such as learning music, dance and even pottery that energize the right brain which is associated with creativity, imagination and emotions - are all encouraged at the workplace off late. Many such activities tend to trigger and give form and shape to a second career, something that is in line with one's calling and thirst. These activities, being more of a voluntary nature, tend to have minimal anxieties of rewards like money and designation. Individuals indulge in them purely for the pleasure that they derive from it.

A simple way to find out what your brain yearns for the most can be found by taking a simple 14 question test. The test is based on the SCARF model of David Rock and I personally found the results pretty agreeable. The assessment is reachable here

You have fun!

Why do we need to have fun to learn?

One undergoes hospitalization, one undergoes surgery, someone undergoes a prison sentence, one is sent to undergo training !!??

This observation by Late Ranjan Acharya caught my attention and combined with my own experience as a facilitator and coach, available literature about how the human brain works, learnings from Dr.Marshall Goldsmith ( and observations from human process work all come together in the following few observations of mine.

The other day, I used an inter office commute and a senior colleague of mine who was in the car with me asked me when the next training program was. He also said that he liked the previous workshop and his co-participants learnt a great deal from it. This was interesting to me. I asked him WHAT made them like the workshop. With a child-like spontaenity, he replied, FUN!

Anyone who has seen Dr. Marshall Goldsmith's video on Feedforward would recall his saying "what is the last word that comes to mind when you think of any feedback or development activity? Fun!" Feedforward works well for this precise reason. Its fast, its about a future you CAN change, not about a past that you can't and its FUN!

The brain is said to have a basic structure known as the reptilian brain said to be associated with more basic functions of survival - such as aggression, etc. You can get more information in the following stellar article (

To put it simply, the brain can have a small positive response to a stimulus or a very LARGE negative 'away' response. The large away response is basically to ensure survival. Being in the away response mode means that the 'fight-freeze-flight' mode is activated and the ability to introspect and learn is reduced tremendously. This means that we can have training happening, but learning is an aspiration in such a situation.

If the outcome from the training is long term positive behaviour change, then such adult learning is basically all about changing beliefs that one holds. Changing beliefs changes the choice one makes in response to situations. This definitely needs that the brain is running in a 'toward' mode.

When anyone is having fun, it means that the brain is in a toward mode! When was the last time you saw someone running away with a dog chasing them and laughing their head off?! Cant happen.

Fun in the classroom requires other areas of SCARF to be taken care of. The facilitator needs to be genuinely humble and curious (Status), the schedule and bio-breaks (Certainity), permission to share freely/take phone calls for emergencies (Autonomy), being human as a facilitator (Relatedness) and ensuring learning justice for the individual (Fairness) set the stage to have fun. Learning. Simple.