Yesterday (February 20th 2013) I was at my mum’s house playing Toy Story with my 3 year old brother. It was like any other playtime…until he taught me a huge lesson. Yes you heard me correctly, a 3 year old taught me, a 22 year old, a lesson. His tool of teaching, a Mrs. Potato Head toy (the Disney store ran out of Mr.Potato Head).

The lesson…

Well there were two:

  1. Adults destroy the souls of children (yes I did just say that).
  2. The only “best practice” is the practice that is best for me.

So what happened…

We were happily playing with Mrs. P. and all her different parts, when this happened…

Josh w: Mrs P Head

You can’t see it very clearly, but my little brother has just put her arms in a hole where the arms “don’t go” – I think it was where her legs are “supposed to go”. “What!? He must be not be very smart! We need to teach him better or more or harder or…or…something! His nursery is failing him! He won’t succeed in life if he can’t spot simple ‘rights’ like this!”

This is a *slight* over exaggeration, but not far from the truth of what I was actually thinking and doing at the time. I was thinking, “does he not recognise that they are arms?”. And then I tried to tell him, or more so convince him, that they were arms, when he said this:

“It’s a monster potato head”. He then proceeded to in act a story battle with his Skylander toys and the monster Mrs. Potato Head. He had challenged the accepted and created a story that involved only his imagination, creativity and happiness.

I was the one failing, not him…

Not because I wasn’t able to “teach” my brother the “right answer” in the situation, but because I was there trying to stamp out his imagination, creativity, and storytelling. But worst of all, by trying to convince him to “do it the right way” I was trying to stamp out his happiness and belief. In that moment I became, albeit unintentionally and albeit for only a moment, a shitty brother…and an even worse human being.

We’re doing this every day…

In business, education, and life we are failing each other every day in an endless series of examples that come from the Monster Mrs. Potato Head playbook.

We give employees tasks to do that “must be done how the company does it”, because “otherwise we won’t achieve our goals”…. no mr business owner, by giving your employees a vision and then the freedom to do their job using their best judgement, you might not achieve your goals…. your employees might just overachieve.

We give students assignments with specific “learning outcomes” set out. And we expect them to carry these “outcomes” right through to the exam and beyond (which almost never happens, ask any graduate). These outcomes are the “right answers”, all you need to know. No they’re not – they’re the right answers for the upcoming exam, for that moment in time… but time, projects, episodes, decisions, these all change and the “outcome” of the learning needs to be different to solve each individual situation.

Mrs. Potato Head’s moral of the story…

We are not robots, with a entire library of “correct answers” or “best practices”. We are all human beings with our own beliefs, thoughts, and decisions to make. With the right vision, purpose, and support in place, the only “best practices” should be the one’s we choose for ourself.

Business leaders: you’ve hired your employees because you believe in them (at least you should have), not because they are robots that you can program. Inspire them with your vision for the company, hire only those that share the belief and values, support their development with training that they want, and then allow them the freedom to do their job their way, using their best judgement and the motivational support system that you provide.

Teachers: the only best practice that you need to teach is that of being true to yourself. Inspire your students to find out their “why” in life (values, beliefs, purpose, vision etc), and then inspire them to want to learn, and provide them the support that they seek to achieve their vision. How and what they should learn, and see as “best practice”, will become ever increasingly apparent as a result and as they carry on this mindset into their adult life.

Challenge the acceptable, to be remarkable.

What do you see?

a) a set of parts with only one way of putting them together? b) an array of opportunities to explore and learn?

a) a set of parts with only one way of putting them together?
b) an array of opportunities to explore and learn?