My late father was born way back in 1908. I was the last of his children and am several years
younger than my nearest sibling. Dad told me a very interesting story that appeared to have happened in 1913.
His mother took him, his two older sisters and his twin brother from their home in Ames to the big city of Des Moines, Iowa. They visited a large department store on the day that the retailer was unveiling the first escalator in the city. A fairly large crowd was assembled as the owner turned on the juice of the modern marvel (with its wooden steps!).
Everyone in the store was invited to join some of the sales staff as they rode up the escalator for the first time. No one moved. They were apparently afraid to try the new contraption. Well, the twin Cole brothers had no such fear. They hopped on the escalator and gleefully rode it up and down much to my grandmother’s embarrassment. When they raced down the up escalator my grandmother, assisted by her older daughter, was able to grab them. The owner came over, shook each of the boy’s hands and thanked them. When others saw the little fellows safely enjoying the new technology, they took a free ride as well. The owner took the whole family to the company dining room and the kids were given as much peach ice cream as they wanted.
Why tell this story? Well, over the last few decades I have read numerous psychological studies that repeatedly say that a person’s imagination tends to peak at age five. After that, we are all programmed to conform and the world loses some of its wonder for us. You go to school, you have to pay attention, do not speak out of turn, sit up straight, and get permission to go to the bathroom. Over time, the regimentation tends to knock the stuffing out of most people. Young people in the workplace often have great ideas but after years of being shouted down or ignored, they tend to go along to get along and never live up to their potential.
Not long ago, I had a student who was every professor’s dream. He asked questions constantly, led class discussions, and was so prepared for lectures that he often asked if there were additional articles or background data that he could read BEFORE I covered a chapter in the classroom. One day, I threw a hypothetical problem at the class about what could a small coffee shop owner do to survive if both McDonald’s and Starbucks were moving in to their trading area and his monopoly loyalty would be threatened. The young guy’s hand shot up first, as I expected, and he said that they should go to friends on the town council and block the two chains from entering the village. I laughed and said no we needed a marketing solution. Actually, I was upset.
He seemed to sense it and after class asked if he had offended me. I said no but I was surprised at his answer. He said, “Isn’t that the way the world works. You get an edge by who you know.”
Somewhere along the line his imagination had been thwarted. He was way too young to be so cynical. Have you ever noticed how people who succeed in the arts or are great entrepreneurs often were troubled youths in some people’s eyes? They did not do well in school because they would not conform. Yet, as adults, they were successful, as they appeared to be wired differently than the rest of us. They have never lost the wonder they had as a five year old.
So, within reason, tap in to that five year old within you. When thinking about issues or how to come up with an imaginative solution to a problem, do not worry about current practices, political correctness, local zoning or even what is legal. Be a five year old and go directly to a solution. Ever watch a youngster open a Christmas present? Does he or she carefully unwrap the paper? Hell no! They get to the gift that is inside as quickly as possible. That spirit is what our society needs to move forward. Five year olds are not boxed in by limits or linear thinking and neither are entrepreneurs with break-through ideas.
Walk or run down that up escalator. Do something silly once in a while. You may start to reclaim what you lost decades ago.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on the blog.