Childhood-Inspired Innovation

What crayons, finger painting, construction paper and sketching can teach us about creativity and innovation.

A recent Harvard Business Review piece looks to Kindergarten models for inspiration in what processes work in stimulating creativity, encouraging risk-taking, and overcoming analytical biases – with the end goal of ultimately encouraging innovation. Thinking back to the days where creativity was encouraged on a daily basis via structured exercises, we could see the author’s point in taking inspiration from that model. We’ve gathered some of the key ideas and observations below, which will hopefully also serve as a ‘muse’ for your next ideation or brainstorm session:

  • Everyone should draw: Even if drawing involves stick figures or clumsy illustrations, drawing/sketching makes ideas tangible and concrete. Much of the value lies in engaging a part of the brain that is usually dormant in a business context. It also frees the mind to create and explore, with no judgment. Think of crayons and construction paper in kindergarten, and have sketching paper, markers and pencils on hand for your team (or yourself).
  • Collaboration: As in kindergarten, there should be no hierarchy. Everyone is encouraged to participate and ideas should be treated equally, regardless of discipline, department or function. Everyone shares, takes turns and is on equal footing.
  • Consider physical space: Encourage movement in creativity (remember recess?). Encourage participants to gather around tables for the sake of unity – but stand up and move around to share your work or experience others’. Whiteboards can be used for drawing and tackable surfaces to display work. As best said by the author;

This reminds me of the kinetic chaos of kindergarten. Whereas first grade, where you sit in little rows of little desks, is essentially the initial step on your way to a cubicle farm, and the dehumanization that goes with that.

  • As final proof of the efficacy of kindergarten practices in generating creativity, the author proposes The Marshmallow Challenge, where participating teams have 18 minutes to build the tallest free-standing tower made out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. Consistently, kindergarteners outperform business students, executives, and most professionals. Why? They approach the challenge playfully, cooperate, and – in recognizing they don’t know everything (nor what they’re doing) – they try different approaches before figuring out what works.

Harvard Business Review: “Innovate Like a Kindergartner”

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