Embrace childhood magic
Creative problem-solving. Mat leave challenges. Alchemy.
With 10 days until Christmas, my 4-year-old wants only one thing:
A flying excavator that can shoot gummy worms out of its cannon.
He couldn’t care less what’s featured in this year’s Amazon catalog or what his friends just got for their birthdays. He thinks about what would be fantastic and goes for it.
If we won’t deliver— no problem, he’s sure Santa will come through.
As a manager, I’ve learned that shooting new ideas down is easier than exploring them. And to focus on what’s known and incremental because it’s less risky than designing a bold plan from scratch.
Rory Sutherland recognized this corporate tendency in his book, Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life, explaining,
“Large organizations are not set up to reward creative thinking… the greatest risks result from an imaginative approach.”
He drew a chart (which I’ve paraphrased) to illustrate how employees will be viewed when they go for an inventive versus familiar solution.
Sutherland argues that leaders must help their teams explore the upper half of this chart.
A conventional focus on what’s already proven is also no way to think big or build a truly original product.
Moving a market takes ingenuity and risk on a personal and company level.
Encouraging creativity at home
Since becoming a parent, I’ve learned to embrace my kids’ blue-sky ideas. It takes imagination and thought, and it’s fun.
Diving in also encourages creative problem-solving.
Howard Gardner discusses why creative thinking will be a vital skill in 5 Minds for the Future. As he explains, anything that can be made into rules will be given to computers - with the jobs and rewards going to the creators.
This is eerily familiar to me, as I’ve started seeing programs like this and this that promise to auto-generate newsletter content. Ugh.
Why my kids are learning to print beautifully (versus legibly) is beyond me. Education systems are often too focused on the rote skills needed before we had PCs - never mind generative AI.
So, when my son asked for a flying, candy-shooting excavator, I asked him how we could build it:
What tools do you need?
Could you combine existing toys to make this?
Will it need a separate remote control for the cannon and propeller?
The more I looked at it, the less insane this project felt. We have a light plastic excavator and a Millennium Falcon quad-drone that flies quite well.
After strapping those two together, we just needed to add a cannon. A travel toothbrush container works. It holds several gummies and could drop them with a tilt of the drone in midair.
Now, we have a minimum-viable toy to build on.
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I also wanted to update you on my managing maternity leave book.
First, some findings. My interviews revealed that this time is usually more challenging than anticipated - for new and experienced moms.
The 3 most common challenges mentioned were:
Sleep deprivation & exhaustion,
Breastfeeding/feeding challenges, and
Difficult emotions - namely anxiety, depression, or loneliness.
This means that an effective post-birth & return to work plan should account for managing these difficulties - for first and any subsequent leaves. I’m turning to experts to pinpoint what this planning should involve.
I’m also running a ~10 min follow-up survey to explore areas not covered in my initial interviews, such as financial pressures, duration of challenges, and more.
Please consider sharing this survey link with your Facebook mom groups to widen its reach and round out the perspective collected.
Have a great holiday.
P.S. Thank you for reading and for your support. It means a lot.
Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life. Written in 2-4 page vignettes by an ad executive, he makes a case for understanding human nature and embracing creativity to stand out.
The surprising habits of original thinkers. Psychologist Adam Grant’s funny, 15-minute TED Talk about what original thinkers do. He covers taking your time, failing a lot, and focusing on improving instead of self-doubting.