Children are blessed with the ability to step in and out of their dream worlds without feeling any sense of embarrassment. Whether they’re playing the role of a prince, a princess or a knight, they can easily become completely absorbed in that role for lengthy periods. Sticks become swords, a towel becomes a cape, and a paper crown is a priceless possession to be fiercely defended. It’s fascinating to observe the uninhibited pleasure they show in their creativity and collaboration.
Can you imagine what would happen if we adults were to give each other permission to step into our own dream worlds while working in a team? So that we don’t continually have to think about whether something is allowed or not. So that we can set a process in motion without the need for a lot of structure or a sharply defined goal. So that instead of saying ‘No’ to a proposal, we first explore what we could learn from it. So that we welcome differences as being complementary and we are able to let go of the need to compete. What impact would it have on our collaboration and the end result of our team?
Every time I propose this idea, the standard response is: ‘But we can’t do that in the environment we live in! We have goals to achieve and responsibilities to take into account.’ Of course that’s true; of course teams have to achieve results. That’s why teams exist! And in my opinion this also means that teams that aren’t achieving results should be disbanded immediately. But that’s as far as I’m prepared to go in acknowledging that it’s impossible to live in a dream world in the ‘real’ world.
What’s so enlightening about the way children play together in their dream world is the interaction they show and the fact that there’s so much space for creativity. They are able to create a situation they are totally engrossed in, driven by an innate sense of fascination, tuning into each other’s thoughts, with the aim of achieving something together, and thoroughly enjoying the whole process. OK, there will be moments of disagreement, but these will usually be expressed and resolved quickly so that the game can continue from there. This transparency with regard to feelings, accepting different ideas, and the desire to really play together are all elements that many teams could learn from. And this film shows where this could lead to if done successfully.
What a shame that we need to re-learn these types of skills within the business context. As a result of the emphasis placed on structure and results, the pressure to do ‘well’ at school, within the family, work, and the social context for example, we have been transformed from creative children into adult robots that simply reel off their programmes. Instead of brainstorming about the possibilities that exist to solve a problem or to consider how the problem was caused in the first place, we choose the first solution that appeals to us (or this solution is forced on us following a power struggle) and then we schedule actions and tasks to make it happen. From being individuals with a broad outlook and an abundance of creativity, we reduce ourselves to an army of doers with a goal to achieve.
But it doesn’t have to be like this! In the business context too we can give more space to the child within us. To do and say things whose added value we don’t know beforehand, to take a bit longer to think about options and solutions, to deviate from the ‘accepted’ standard, to generate ‘crazy’ ideas, or just to do something because it’s fun to do. And it all starts with giving yourself permission to allow room for the ‘child’, that’s the mental attitude that’s required.
To show you how simple it is, here’s a short exercise for you. Using a pen and paper, write down in one minute all the things you can do with a brick. How many things have you managed to think up? Now imagine you’re a hash-smoking hippy. Adopt the physical pose that’s appropriate (tip: sit on the floor), pretend to smoke, talk really slowly, give the peace sign and do whatever else comes to mind. I agree with you, it looks weird, but give yourself permission to really do it without thinking about it. Just briefly, give the child in you permission to live in its dream world. After living as this character for a minute, take your pen and paper again and write down in one minute more ways you can use that brick (tip: maintain your physical pose and the hippy movements throughout these thirty seconds). Notice anything? Most people get a huge flow of new and original ideas by changing their idea of their physical and mental selves.
In other words, living in a dream world once in a while gives you the opportunity to achieve better results. By mentally (and also physically, if you dare) giving yourself permission to temporarily live in another world, you create opportunities for achieving better or new solutions. And by doing this, you will be taking your responsibility for the notion that teams exist for the purpose of achieving results. From a business point of view then, the dream world is a powerful complement to the ‘real’ world. And the pleasure that this generates will result in you and your colleagues collaborating with an even higher degree of connection and enjoyment.