How embracing your inner child can make you a better entrepreneur and business owner

Admirable leaders all have an infectious energy, passion, a vibe that makes people want to be around them – it’s a similar energy you get from children, says Ed James

On the face of it the playground and the boardroom do not have many similarities, but the more you look, the more business lessons we can learn from kids. I’m not talking about tantrums and screaming fits (although I’m sure we’ve all seen our fair share of those in the boardroom), but there are some key things that kids do, which can absolutely pay dividends in business.

The secret to fulfilment doesn’t lie with learning anything new, instead it’s about unlearning all the unhelpful habits and behaviours we’ve taken on over the years to get us back to our authentic, powerful selves. Think about it for a second. Look back at what all of us have already achieved. We’ve already mastered the two most difficult skills – walking and talking.

Can you imagine if we had to learn to walk as an adult? Most of us would probably give up – we would try a few times, fall down, and then say something like: ‘maybe I’m just not supposed to be a walker, there’s nothing wrong with crawling!’ As a kid though, we don’t even give it a second thought. We approach it with passion. Think about a child trying to walk – when they fall they laugh!  It’s a game. They are lost in the moment. They are not thinking about what they are going to do after they learn to walk or comparing themselves to other kids who are walking already. They are just immersed in it and enjoying the process. First crawling, then ‘coasting’, and finally walking. Imagine what we could do by tapping into those powerful resources we had as a child and using them in business.

The Be More Kid philosophy is built on four pillars: Play, Passion, Present and Purpose. These are the main drivers for kids and ironically the four main things we lose sight of when we get older. We get too busy, too distracted, too anxious, too lost in where we think we’re going that we actually forget what’s important. Reconnecting with these can have transformative effects on our lives and our businesses! 

Think about the leaders and entrepreneurs you admire the most. For me the list would include Sir Richard Branson, Michelle Mone, Elon Musk, Alan Barrett from Grenade, Ben Francis from Gymshark and Steven Bartlett ex social chain.

They all have an infectious energy, passion, a vibe that makes people want to be around them. It’s a similar energy you get from kids. They make people feel better. People want to work for them and clients want to do business with them, it’s a natural zest for life that feels intoxicating.

So, what are these resources we had as kids that can make us better entrepreneurs and business people?

Be authentic

It’s important to be really honest about who you are, what you want, what your brand or business stands for, and what you will or won’t accept. Not everyone will like you but those that do will want to be part of your team even more. Think back to childhood – you will have been really clear about what you wanted and didn’t want. When you didn’t want to do something, you would have had no problem just saying so. No explaining, sugar coating or dressing it up – you just told it like it was. This isn’t an excuse to be rude, but success is tied into a laser-like focus on what you want and what you stand for. Anything that is a distraction or doesn’t help – needs to go. This a great lesson for leadership too, being honest and authentic about your feelings is one of the first building blocks of a great culture. There is no need to pretend. If you’re having a bad day, feeling concerned or simply don’t know the answer to something – it’s hugely powerful to be really honest about that. No one expects you to have all the answers all the time and those who pretend they do very quickly get found out. A great example of this is the founder of Gymshark, Ben Francis. When they had a backlog of orders a few years ago on Black Friday, Ben went into the warehouse, got his phone out and started live streaming.

Explaining where the orders come in, showing them being packed, updating everyone about how many extra staff had been drafted in and explaining he would make it his personal mission to get the orders out as soon as they could. He also apologised for the delay and thanked people for their support and patience. What an amazing thing to do. It’s this kind of culture that starts from the top down and that surely has to be one of the reasons the brand has seen massive growth over the last few years and is now valued at £1billion.

Dream big

Kids are experts at this.  Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and they will tell you – a footballer, an astronaut, or (more than likely these days) a gaming influencer or YouTuber. What a brilliant attitude to have. As we get older, we scale back our ambitions. People tell us to be realistic, not to take too many risks. We’re told things are impossible, too difficult or they will never work. As Steve Jobs famously said: ‘the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do’. You have as much chance of success as anyone else so why wouldn’t you have the biggest dreams, goals and ambitions as you can? Why can’t your brand be the next unicorn?

Use your imagination

The power of imagination is something kids just innately have. To a kid it is a spaceship, not a fairy liquid bottle. Imagination is a powerful tool. Sportspeople know this only too well. The unconscious mind can’t tell the difference between the real and the imagined. Now think about the fact that many people will jump to the worst-case scenario. Essentially predisposing them to failure. The trick is to imagine everything tuning out successfully. Every time you think about the goal, really focus on this positive image you’ve created. Over time you’ll retrain your brain to use your imagination to attract positive opportunities.

Be present and appreciate the journey

Think of a child at play. They are totally immersed in whatever it is they are doing. They are not multi-tasking, not thinking about what’s happening later that day, they are totally focused on what they are doing right now. Think back to a walk you’ve been on with kids. It’s very rarely straightforward, it’s like herding cats. They meander, get distracted by a flower, a smooth stone or an enticing puddle. So much so that it’s not about where they are going, and more about how they get there. They get lost in the journey and enjoy it. It’s the same in business – don’t be in such a rush that you miss the fun and opportunities along the way.

Another thing kids do is they accept things for what they are without attaching undue meaning to them. All too often in business and life we see things as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. This is far too simplistic. How do you know the thing you’re choosing to see as a failure or problem isn’t in fact the biggest opportunity you’ve ever had? In the early days of our agency HDY, we lost a key client due to a genuine mistake. It’s never nice when this happens and there are a few ways of handling it. We could have found out who was to blame and taken a heavy-handed approach, but what long term effect would that have had? Instead we saw it as an opportunity to learn. We shared the experience with the team, we collectively owned the responsibility,  but we also pointed out we are all accountable and we looked to the future instead of dwelling on the issue. Looking back now it was the turning point for our business. It bound everyone together and encouraged the team to have each other’s backs. Everything is an opportunity to learn and you never know if anything is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because you don’t have full context. So, like a child – just accept what is and carry on.

Play and have fun

Never underestimate the amazing effect playing can have on your business. When your mind isn’t focused on work it’s free create new ideas, concepts and suggestions that may be the game changer you are looking for. The trick here is to have the headspace to spot it. I’m sure we’ve all had a brainwave either in the shower or when we’re out for a run – it’s where the magic happens. It’s why we can often see the right answer when on holiday or taking a break. Play tied into exercise is probably the most effective. The endorphins have a huge impact. What did you used to enjoy as a kid? Instruments, sports, games – reconnect with the things you used to love, and you’ll be amazed at the effect it has on your wellbeing. The whole team can benefit from this too. We’ve just introduced ‘Friday fun and games’ sessions at HDY. Every Friday everyone who wants to can join in physically or virtually and we play team games. It’s great for culture, mindset and innovation.

When it comes to combining playing and business not many people do this as well as Alan Barratt, CEO of Grenade. You may have seen the huge orange tank that he parked up outside the commons during lockdown to put pressure on the government to reopen the gyms. It was hugely impactful, and I’ll leave the final word to him from his endorsement of Be More Kid: ‘Never underestimate the positive effect that playing and having fun can add to both life and business. I still play with toys everyday – they’ve just got bigger.’

Be More Kid by Ed James, Nicky Taylor and Mark Taylor is out now and published by Wiley.

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