I have the best business guru in the world. He’s not quite five feet tall, tells jokes with ridiculous punch lines, and makes a sport of farting in the bathtub – my son, Jake. Now, don’t think this is mom bias. Anyone with access to a youngster can have a sage at their beck and call with nothing more than the promise of an extra bedtime story or an ice-cream cone. If you hang around kids and listen closely, the wisdom flows constantly for they do something that adults have unlearned to do – they see things as they are.
Let me illustrate with a story.
It was a Friday night and my husband wanted to meet some of his buddies at a bar across town, so I offered to drive him (why thank you, I am a nice wife). I piled Jake, who was 5 at the time, into the car and we dropped off Daddy. As we drove away and came upon a stop light, Jake and I noticed three cute 20-something gals in fashionable, yet teeny-tiny dresses, clutching sparkly purses and teetering on strappy shoes. They were shivering furiously while trying to hail a taxi with zero luck. Clearly they were heading downtown, presumably to a nightclub, but their fun was thwarted by the dreadful fog and cold that often sneaks up on San Francisco.
The mom in me worried. I said aloud, “Where are their coats?”
Jake, not missing a beat, yelled from his car seat, “Where are their pants?”
I think I laughed the whole way home. Not only because it was so darn funny, but because Jake had illuminated my inability to see the obvious. Asking where their pants were, was a far better question than pondering the whereabouts of their coats.
He could see this so clearly because kids are unfettered by mental models. They haven’t yet come to rely on a particular way of thinking about the world and the relationships between things. As adults, we use these short-cuts to help us navigate the world more efficiently. They’re a wonderful thing really, but they can also handicap us in a way for we stop seeing things entirely as they are.
My mental model of fashion and societal norms made it perfectly okay for the women to be wearing scraps of fabric in 50 degree weather, because I understood their desire to look cute for a night on the town – they just needed a coat. Jake didn’t share that model, so he was thinking, get some pants ladies!
As I apply this insight from my bathtub farting guru to my work, I challenge myself to let go of mental models about how branding and business is or should be. Some fundamentals have merit, but it’s a powerful practice to slow down every once in awhile to examine the norm and see if there might be a deeper question to be asked. Or I can hang out with Jake. I just have to wear pants.