Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.26.27 PMBuilding things is an existential endeavor. It takes mettle. Mettle requires an optimism inherent in the doing. It is the spirit within which the work is done that makes something great and powers said mettle. It is a self-powering process that feeds itself forward.

My new favorite form of building is taking an idea that is not so good off the start and making it great. Spending so much time these days playing with a 2-year-old, I notice how much better I am getting at letting him lead the play, come up with the ideas, and then we build on them. This is not to say he only comes up with not-so-great ideas. Quite the contrary. His ideas are generally incomplete, mostly. He is the perfect collaborator for this. He has no ego in the way, yet. In fact, he’s a little idea machine. His ideas just need a little help being shaped is all. That’s where I get to come in.

Puppet shows are a good example. He will choose a toy. Lately his favorite is Dora, followed distantly by “Country Bear,” a stuffed bear who talks only with a Southern accent. He will start it off, chatting them up. I will wait and see if it sticks. Sometimes he’s only into it for literally a few moments. If it sticks, before we know it we have a full-blown puppet show going on behind the couch and the stories get pretty far out there. He’s two so anything goes but the atmosphere we create feels more improv than toddler’s play space.

Any process of creating an unassuming atmosphere is pretty much a perfect approach to any problem-solving scenario. I think back on some of my experiences in various fields and recall how I solved this problem or that. It is clear to me that what is really going on here, what this sweet little boy is teaching me, is showing me how to collaborate in a new and highly effective way. I have always been a pretty playful type when it comes to solving creative problems but this experience has gratefully taken it all to a new level. It has less to do with control and more to do with building trust through fun and letting the idea meander – even if it isn’t particularly interesting at first. In short order, it will turn into something playful and fun and then the real rubber begins to hit the road.

Figures Plato would say something like this:

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

build_2As grown-ups we tend to glob onto specific ways of doing most everything. The more we age and the more we get set in those ways, the less magic we allow into the whole experience, perhaps, because we begin to start thinking we have seen it all or have run out of interesting new ideas. Who needs new ideas?

What I mean is, I remember when this little boy first showed up. I was frightened that I would run out of ideas. I honestly did. I can clearly see what I was looking at when I thought I would most definitely run out of cool things to do and say and teach this little life. What a bunch of malarky – number one – but number two is the best part. Number two is: what about taking an idea that is not so hot and slowly, intentionally making it great? That’s where it’s at. Let the not-so-awesome ideas come out. What a great framework within which to build something that is truly great. Intentionally start with an idea that isn’t awesome? Talk about taking the pressure off.

Not so sure why I was ever so afraid of sharing ideas that were less-than-stellar. Now, thanks to the influence of Little Mister New to Everything, I have a new perspective on how to approach building things, creative work specifically and problem solving in general.

That’s how it’s done.