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Using Childlike Qualities to your Advantage in Adulthood

I was sad to learn of the recent passing of Sir Kenneth Robinson. In case you have never heard of him, he was an educationist who argued that children’s creativity, and childlike qualities are stifled by school systems that prioritise academic achievement. He has a great Ted Talk on the subject which is well worth watching, and it is very funny! It’s actually been watched over 67 million times. You can see it here:

In that speech, and at other less noticed conferences and less well-attended seminars over many years, Robinson controversially argued that children do not grow into artistic creativity but are educated out of it by school systems that prioritise academic achievement and conformity instead of liberating imagination and initiative. He put a lot of the blame for this at the feet of successive governments of all political persuasions.

Reading about his passing got me wondering about why it is that children seem to be so naturally creative. As I did so I remembered a quote that we use in our creative problem-solving workshop. It’s by Thomas Huxley and says:


“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of childhood into maturity”


Childlike Qualities Worth Retaining in maturity


I think what Huxley meant was to carry with us our childlike qualities. Please note that I am not advising you to carry your childish qualities into adulthood. Obviously some folks didn’t get the memo judging by their behaviour!!

As someone who is keen on NLP, I have learnt the power of modelling. So, here are some of the childlike qualities that I think we could all do with retaining as we ‘grow up’.

  • Playfulness
  • A sense of challenge
  • Curiosity/inquisitiveness
  • A willingness to take risks
  • Positive discontent
  • The joy of discovery/wonder
  • A willingness to experiment (no, not that type in case you are wondering!)
  • A desire to learn
  • Tolerance of ambiguity


OK, you now know that I am fascinated by what makes children so creative. As well as Sir Kenneth Robinson I am also a fan of Robert Fulghum. Fulghum is an American writer who grew up, appropriately, in Waco in Texas!

He is the author of several great books on the subject of bringing childlike qualities into adulthood that I would recommend to anyone. In one of them, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Fulghum asks a really important question:

Whatever Happened to “Yes! Of Course I Can?”

He tells the following story of a kindergarten teacher who asked their class, ‘How many of you can draw?’

All hands shoot up. “Yes, of course, we can draw— all of us!”

“What can you draw?”

“Anything!” the children reply. “What do you want us to draw?”

“How about a dog eating a fire truck in a jungle?”

“Sure! How big you want it?”

‘How many of you can sing?’ again all hands go up.

“Of course we sing!”

“What can you sing asks the teacher?” “Anything comes the reply!”

“But, what if you don’t know the words?”

“No problem, we make them up. Let’s sing!” “What, now?” “Why not!”

“How many of you dance?” Unanimous again. “What kind of music do you like to dance to?”

“Any kind! Let’s dance!” “Now?” “Sure, why not?”

“Do you like to act in plays?” “Yes!”

“Do you play musical instruments?” “Yes!”

“Do you write poetry?”  “Yes!”

“Can you read and write and count?” “Yes! We’re learning that stuff now!”

Their answer is Yes! Over and over again, Yes! The children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn. It appears that everything is still possible for them; or, at least, they believe it is!

Fulghum then suggests trying those same questions on, say, a college audience. A small percentage of the students will raise their hands when asked if they draw or dance or sing or paint or act or play an instrument. Not infrequently, those who do raise their hands will want to qualify their response with their limitations:

“I only play piano… I only draw horses… I only dance to rock and roll… I only sing in the shower.”

What Limits Our Creativity In Adulthood?

When asked why the limitations, college students answer they do not have talent, are not majoring in the subject, or have not done any of these things since about third grade, or worse, that they are embarrassed for others to see them sing or dance or act.

Obviously you can imagine the response to the same questions asked of an audience that is even older still – say, perhaps, my age!

The answer will probably be: “No, none of the above.”

So, let me again ask you the question that Fulghum asks and that Sir Kenneth Robinson talks about: What went wrong between kindergarten and college: Whatever happened to “Yes! Of course I can?”

With thanks to Dramatic Publishing for this excerpt

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