Matter Chatter

Limitless Optimism, Boundless Creativity, and Better Work Habits (Inspired by Pants with Toilets)

Last week, my adorable seven-year-old son Owen came bursting up out of the playroom, leaving his best friend with a paused game of Wii Mario Kart so that he could use the bathroom. He sprinted to the bathroom, did his business, and came back through kitchen in a blur, then paused at the top of the stairs before heading back down. He looked thoughtfully at me as he adjusted the twisted waistband on his shorts and asked: “Mom, why haven’t they invented pants with a toilet in them?” I laughed and said that he should invent them, but that plumbing was likely to be a big design challenge. He smiled with his big brown eyes and without another word, dashed away, back to playing.

This seemed a moment made for Facebook sharing, so I posted it, where it was met with a few Likes and some cynical (and funny) commentary such as “that’s called a diaper” or “because it would be hard to walk around!”

I posted it because it made me laugh out loud, and I wanted to share that. But the adult responses (including my own) made clear the massive gap in imagination between 7 year olds and grown-ups. And it made me wonder when it is that we lose the limitless optimism that underlies a child’s assumption that any invention is possible.

It reminded me of an article I read a couple months ago in Fast Company that highlighted a study by Latitude research about children predicting the future of computing. Here’s the part that’s thought-provoking. Only 4% of the children’s wishes were unattainable right now (teleportation and time travel) given what engineers are currently capable of. In fact, one of the children wished for the ability to search with an image, rather than text. Incredibly, Google announced Google Image Search the day the study was released.

Leading me to the conclusion that while wild imaginations might lead to crazy nightmares and very strange storytelling among the ten and under set, we adults could use a dose more of it in our everyday lives. Just imagine the things we could accomplish and invent if we suspended our inclination to say “because it would be hard” and instead, thought really creatively about solving problems, and then tried with boundless energy to make something amazing happen.

In our PR jobs, we get bound up by what’s practical: “the client might not want to hear this idea” or “they’ll never do it anyway” or “my manager will think I’m crazy for suggesting a different way” or “this reporter probably won’t take this meeting.” What a waste of energy and time. For my part, I’m using this pants-toilet incident as an object lesson in the benefits of being more childlike, and a little less practical. I expect that in addition to doing better work, I’ll be having a lot more fun.

Oh, and I fully expect that when Owen gets his prototype off the ground, we’ll all be more productive during the day, since we won’t have those pesky bathroom breaks to slow us down.

  • Lauren C

    I’ve always found it interesting that we encourage creativity and an open imagination with our children but as adults we’re quick to dismiss imaginative ideas from adults. We tell adults to be realistic, or that it can’t be done, or even worse – that’s a stupid idea. Being child-like at times can also drum up innovative ideas.

    Many companies now celebrate a team’s failure. Why? Because they dissect the reasons it failed and learn from it. So why not celebrate a team’s imagination? Who knows what you’ll learn from it.