The kids are all right! Rekindle a childlike wonder in jaded workers

happy workerAs you encounter children this holiday season, take note of their wide-eyed passion for everything from snow falling to sugar cookies baking. Wouldn’t it be nice to recapture some of that zest for life, especially when it comes to work? Are there secrets children can share with us?

“Kids are excitable because every day brings novelty and there’s a surprise around every corner. Adults can fall into ruts, not because they get older, but because they get familiar with the world,” says Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.

To generate more childlike excitement and curiosity in your team, Wise­­man suggests putting people in situations where they will find surprises—where their deeply rooted expectations will be violated.

“This is where learning happens and work gets interesting,” she says. For example, challenge your charges (and yourself) to:

  • Borrow a job: Identify a colleague in an adjacent area and swap jobs for a day or two. Take the insights back to your current work.
  • Get hands-on: Get closer to the action and to your customers. You might be surprised by what is really happening.
  • Try something different: Instead of playing to your strengths, step outside of your comfort zone and sign up to do something new and hard—something you aren’t fully qualified to do. You’ll encounter new problems and learn fast as you scramble up the learning curve.
  • Spend time with amateurs: Hang out with interns and up-and-comers. Watch what they are doing, look for new moves, and soak in their energy and their aspiration.
  • Ask the naïve questions: Ask what a child or a newcomer would ask—the basic questions that cut to the core of the issue and help the entire team see things anew.
  • Teleport back to rookie days: Transport yourself in time and place to when you were new to an important piece of work. Remember how you felt and how you approached the work. Use this insight to rekindle a rookie mindset in your current work.

Another key difference between children and adults is that the former often go after what they truly want, while the latter settle for comfort (or, perhaps more succinctly, fear discomfort). Failure to take some risks, however, can lead to boredom and regret.

“Children are more fearless in the sense that they are not as tuned in or wary of things such as ‘risk’ or ‘danger’ that may come from deviating from a certain path or behavior,” says Tiffani Murray, author of Stuck on Stupid: A Guide for Today’s Professional Stuck in a Rut. “Additionally, adults have the ability to fashion ‘what if’ scenarios, whereas children tend to look at it more simply: If I want to get to C, I must do steps A and B. The idea of failure doesn’t enter in as much as with an adult.”

Managers who encourage team members to raise concerns or propose new ways of doing things without fear of retribution or humiliation can help everyone avoid workplace staleness.

As Murray notes, “There is a saying that goes ‘It is what it is’ that is often tossed around in professional settings on teams and even by leaders. The full saying should be ‘It is what it is, until we do something different.’”

Finally, remember that one can never know the outcome of a change or alternate path until it is actually made or taken.

While deviating from the usual can seem challenging, doing so may activate your passionate, adventurous spirit that has been waiting to be rediscovered.