I was reflecting back on my short but very eventful career so far. I’m a serial intern and someone who’s taken many a leaps in many directions (11 different industries). I was trying to relate back to Steve Jobs’ speech to see if I connect the dots backwards, does it make any sense? Does going with the flow and a belief in serendipity really help you? For example, one of the part-time jobs I had involved teaching kids in kindergartens and primary schools. How does teaching a bunch of primary school kids actually help you with expanding a start-up globally?
And that’s when it hit me – All the invaluable lessons from my work with children, from those adorable kindergartners to the still adorable and slightly annoying primary school kids to the most grateful and eager kids of the low-income school India. Those highly valuable experiences in the classroom help me everyday as I work in a high-risk, high-innovation environment.
As I work in a “start-up” like environment, I start to unlearn things I’ve learnt and go back to the most profound lessons some of my toothless 7 year olds have taught me, to deal with all the uncertainty that working in a start-up brings.
1. Ask WHY — Have you have ever had a conversation with a primary school kid? No status quo is left unquestioned. “But why?” is their favourite question and the more you try to think about “but why”, the more you find purpose in what you are doing and the more clarity you have or can seek to have. In my current role, I’ve become that toothless 7 year old that always asks “but why” because only when you can answer that, can you really understand what you are trying to build and make it something solid.
2. Stay curious — I love the look of wonder on kids faces and their curiosity for the world around them. I think that’s why I love travel because it turns me into that curious kid. I think that’s also why I love working for start-ups, it necessitates curiosity. To be successful in a start-up environment, you have to stay curious and stuff your eyes for wonder for the “what could bes”. The other favourite question from my primary school kids was “what would happen if”…This simple question unleashes a world of possibilities and raises red flags, especially in the early stages of building a company.
3. Go with the flow — I still remember this clay modelling session at a kindergarten. I set out to make a dinosaur with little Alex and ended up making a cat in a hat. Apparently, as we built prototypes, Alex learnt that he actually liked cats more and that the colours of the clay were better suited for a cat. It wasn’t a dinosaur but Alex was happy and his model stood out for being creative. That’s another lesson for start-ups…go with the flow! You may not end up with the product you had in mind and may need to make many a changes on the way but as long as you believe in the end result and as long as it’s still viable, do it! The important aspect is to not be too attached to the original idea and to learn as you go with the flow.
4. Make friends — Do you remember how it was so much easier making friends when we were younger? When we didn’t judge or confine ourselves to circles and cliques? As long as you could run and knew how to kick a ball, you could join a bunch of other kids who were doing the same. That’s the other lesson I learnt from kids, the importance of meeting and joining other people doing same/similar things — expanding your network and finding common ground based on what you like to do! And just like kids, you shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help, when needed because if you don’t ask, you don’t get! This lack of inhibition coupled with belief in everyone being good has helped me immensely when starting something new.
5. Keep it simple — Simplicity is a virtue. Kids know it more than any of us complicated grownups. I remember a class we had about the environment, we were talking about plastic bags and why cloth bags were better. We asked kids why they shouldn’t use plastic and one student promptly replied that they weren’t strong enough. Practicality trumped morality but also taught me that simple things make sense. You don’t have to complicate a product as long as it makes sense and meets a pain.
So, yes, kids teach the darndest things. I think sometimes we just need to unlearn things we’ve been taught in our fancy business school classrooms and go back to that playground and the very fundamental beginnings of our being to understand why we are doing what we are doing and how we should do it better! Find that inner kid and channelise that curiosity and openness and voila, all those dots will start to connect!