As part of the improvisational theater course I teach at a community college, we visit a fifth grade classroom midway through the term. My students perform, teach and play theater games with the kids. It’s fun way for my students to have their first audience and to put some of what they have learned into practical terms.
What they don’t expect is to learn anything from the kids, but my students usually are blown away by the natural talent of the 10-year-olds. I started thinking that this age group has much to teach all of us about business skills and about life in general. Here then are the top business skills you can learn – or re-learn – from a fifth-grader.
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Business skills you can learn from a 5th grader
When we ask for volunteers to help us out in a game, almost every fifth-grader’s hand goes up. Some of them get so excited at the opportunity that they can hardly contain themselves. They wave their hands, uttering “Ooh, ooh! I want to!” The kids are so genuinely disappointed when they aren’t chosen that I look for new ways to get each one of them onstage with us.
By contrast, when we perform for an adult audience, we usually get only a couple of volunteers. Sometimes, we have to coax people to give us suggestions and ideas.
How does a willingness to step up help you in business? Timing can be everything. If you are reluctant to jump on an opportunity, you can miss out on it altogether. Are you playing it too safe with your decisions? Maybe it’s time to raise your hand.
Laugh a Lot
I don’t know if there are any studies on how many times a day a typical 10-year-old laughs, but it’s got to be a pretty high number compared with the rest of us.
My students are always surprised at how the kids “get” the jokes and how free the children are with their laughter. And the kids are physical with their laughter too. No tee-hees or hands-in-front-of-their-mouths kind of laughs. They laugh loud and hard when they find something funny.
Now I’m not suggesting that you roll around on the floor (like the kids can do sometimes) laughing at your next business meeting, but I am suggesting that you lighten up a little. Use humor to diffuse a potentially tense situation at work. Open a meeting with a funny personal anecdote. Laughter really is good medicine. It stretches muscles, burns calories and produces a natural energy booster. Life is funny. Laughing feels good.
Are you someone who second-guesses yourself? You have a great idea, but instead of seeing how it will work, you focus on how it might not work?
Most ten-year-olds are very spontaneous. They trust their instincts and will jump right into a situation. It’s sad that life experience teaches us to overthink our responses to daily challenges.
How many times have you thought to yourself, “Hey, I thought of that!” or “I could have done that” when has someone else gotten the job, promotion or project that you wanted? Trust yourself more. You can do it!
Although they are on the cusp of puberty, most ten-year-olds retain that wonderful innocence of a child. When they don’t know something, they ask.
If my students throw out an idea that they don’t understand or if they are stuck in a scene, the children ask questions. The fifth-graders don’t feel that they are showing any sign of weakness by saying “I don’t know.”
Are you afraid to admit you don’t know something? Do you pretend you know how to approach a complicated project, when you really need more direction? Asking questions can save you valuable time and energy in the business world. Asking questions of the right people can even put you ahead of the crowd.
Use your imagination.
Kids are natural improvisers because they use their imaginations to create stuff all the time. A stick becomes a sword or the family cat becomes a mystical beast.
We usually don’t use props of any kind in our Improve work. Whereas adults can be hesitant in creating something out of nothing, kids aren’t. Fifth graders enjoy pretending and are very specific in the details they create.
Adults get caught up all the physical stuff of this world, but kids can take all that away and see things as they really are. As a result, kids often can find simple solutions to problems that we adults have overlooked.
Re-learning some of the skills you knew as a fifth-grader can open you up to more possibilities, both as an individual and as a business professional. If you get the chance, hang out with a 10-year-old or two and see what they can teach you.