• Article
  • April 25, 2016

3 Ways to Think Like a Kid

Innovative, new ideas come from uninhibited thinking.

By Julie Austin

A hospital can be a busy, chaotic environment. Staff members are focused, moving between patients, while giving each the compassion they deserve. There's little time to devote to problem solving or to just step back and observe. But luckily, staff members are surrounded by creative thinkers—their patients. "One of the benefits of working at a children's hospital is being surrounded by children," says Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, president and CEO of Children's Hospital of Orange County. "Their creativity and unfiltered observations are refreshing and inspire us to work even harder on their behalf."

This way of thinking led Reece and Olivia Ohmer to find a solution for patients with Type 1 diabetes. After living with it for most of their childhood, the girls eventually became bogged down by responding to frequent and complex check-ins and reminders from parents and caregivers. They knew other kids with diabetes probably felt the same way.

Looking for a better way to communicate, the sisters created a diabetes emoticon app, which features illustrations to easily answer the most common questions and text messages patients may receive from their parents: "Did you test your blood sugar? Did you have a snack?" The child can quickly reply with emoticons showing a blood glucose meter and a snack.

To tap into the unlimited creativity you had as a kid, model your patients' way of thinking, and let some of their energy rub off on you. Here's how.

1. Take things to the absurd

Anyone who spends a lot of time around kids shouldn't be surprised at the results. Kids have no filters, which might be embarrassing when you're standing in line at the grocery store, but it's exactly what is needed for creativity. Sometimes it's hard to get adults to loosen up and shout out their craziest ideas for fear of looking stupid, but kids do it without thinking.

If you want to come up with solutions to problems others won't think of, you have to take things to the absurd. The first or second idea you come up with will be the same thing everyone else will come up with. It's only when you take your ideas to the absurd that the most amazing, radical innovations can start to take shape. Throw logic out the window and let your imagination run wild.

2. Be fearless

When babies begin to learn how to walk, they fall—a lot. But they always get up and do it again because they're fearless. Our awareness of danger sets in gradually, and kicks in around the age of 4 or 5. By the time you become an adult, it gets easier to stay stuck in your comfort zone. Risk is scary, even if it's just taking a creative risk. So if you want to come up with a good idea, you have to generate a lot of ideas.

And that means most of them are going to be stupid, silly, illogical and worthless, which means putting your creative self out there to be judged. But kids don't think about that. They jump off a creative cliff every day. Children's hospitals have an abundance of creative talent available. The next time you're stuck for an innovative idea, ask a kid.

3. Ask lots of questions

Between the ages of 4 and 6, kids ask the most questions, many of them being "What if?" questions. This is also something inventors do instinctively to solve problems and create new products. Once we become adults, we lose this trait. Maybe we don't want to look like we don't have the answer.

But some of the smartest people ask a lot of questions. It's vital for creativity and innovation. Martial arts icon Bruce Lee once said, "A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer." Maybe Bruce Lee knew that the secret to innovation is also the secret to a fulfilling life—curiosity.

Julie Austin is CEO of the consulting firm Creative Innovation Group. Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.