All You Really Need To Know About Business (You Can Learn From A Five-Year Old)

“Want to play ‘I Spy’?” my grandson asked. I looked up at him in the rear-view mirror; he leaned forward in his car seat, eyes wide and hopeful. “Sure,” I said. “You start.” Chase spied (with his little eye) something red: a truck I did not see. As we continued the 15-minute trip toward his school, where his third day of kindergarten awaited, Chase correctly noticed nearly everything I spied. I struggled to match his prowess, but reasoned I was at a disadvantage because I had to stay focused on the road. Later, it occurred to me that maybe — okay, probably — he was merely more observant than me; better at seeing the remarkable in what I took to be commonplace.

I was reminded of Robert Fulghum and his seminal work, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, where he echoed the fundamental Dick-and-Jane mantra: LOOK. While Fulghum was examining life through a childlike lens, including lessons for sharing, fairness, non-violence, cleanliness, etc., I was thinking specifically about business. What other business lessons could I learn from my grandson and our morning adventure? There are many, but these came quickly to mind:

Dress for success. Before our trip to Chase’s school, and as he awaited his cereal (another rule: eat breakfast), I noticed his togs: khaki shorts, sneakers and socks, a basketball-themed T-shirt. Perfect for the occasion. Sure, there are times when it makes sense to take fashion risks, but kindergarten probably isn’t one of them. A kid could, after all, suffer slings and arrows for prematurely bold fashion statements. Likewise, standing out inappropriately in a business setting can damage the adult professional’s chances of sending the right message. Not sure how to dress for a specific business occasion or environment? It’s better to err on the side of being too formal, rather than too casual. For Chase’s business/social/networking environment (and isn’t that what school is, after all?), his attire would serve him well — as long as he didn’t declare to his classmates that he was also wearing Spiderman boxers.

What else can we learn from a five year-old?

Be prepared. The kid’s Spiderman backpack, on the other hand, was both stylish and functional, perfect for the inevitable rush of papers to be signed, Crayola artwork, and — dare I say it? — homework assignments. In business, the adult professional should be equally prepared to give information as to receive it. A key tip: Never, and I mean NEVER, leave home without a supply of business cards. Business discussions and opportunities present themselves when least expected, so be ready. (And if you’re a techie, don’t assume that the people you meet will be similarly equipped for you to “bump” your contact information to their smart-phones.)

It also makes sense to be prepared with promotional material for your business. While it might be inappropriate to carry a full portfolio into every business setting, at least keep a supply of brochures and samples in your vehicle. I recently developed pocket-sized brochures detailing TipTopics’ products, services, plans and pricing. These are easily carried and concealed until just the right moment, and can extend your message beyond the business card. Just make sure there’s genuine interest before pushing such items into a prospect’s hands.

Know where you’re going. Chase assured me he knew where to go once inside the school building, and his wristband would remind him which bus to take home. Soon enough, going to the right place at the right time will become second nature for him. But in business it’s common to have new destinations each day. You can be prepared with turn-by-turn printed directions or a pre-programmed GPS (or both, to play it safe). Make sure you allow extra time for road construction, traffic, confusing or missing signs, and to find your way once inside your destination building. Also, make sure you have contact phone numbers in case you get unavoidably sidetracked.

On a larger scale, knowing where you want your business to go, and how you see it growing and evolving, is easier if you set challenging, yet realistic goals and operate according to business and marketing plans. Do you have a mission statement for your business? A mantra? Do you know your unique selling proposition (your USP)? If not, you might be off course and not even realize it.

Get connected…with people, that is. Before we got to his school, Chase told me he was happy to have made new friends. I’m glad, too. As he progresses through school, he’ll need friends, homework partners, teammates. It’s no different in business. While it can be tempting sometimes to draw inward and work in a vacuum, don’t fall into that trap. Make friends, network, ask for help and accept it when needed.

Get excited about learning. When we reached our destination, and after a briefly tolerated Grandpa hug, Chase raced off toward his classroom. He didn’t look back. Instead, he rushed headlong toward the not-yet-known. Can we re-embrace this attitude as adults? It’s worth trying, isn’t it?

Bottom Line:

Do we really get wiser as we get older? Noted educator Neil Postman once wrote that “Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.” Indeed, too often our possibilities yield to someone else’s absolutes. There is hope, of course, and perhaps it starts with business lessons from a five-year old. It’s at least worth another grandpa hug, don’t you think?

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~ by Bob Chenoweth on 03/27/2010.

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