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Let's rediscover the power of child's play

29 December 2012
Vineet Nayar

As we call curtains on a tumultuous 2011, we have certainly learned one lesson: Solving the problems encountered this year was no child's play. Or was it?

I invite you to view a short video clip of ‘World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements,’ my favourite game in the world. In it, John Hunter, a Virginia based school teacher who created this political simulation game, puts all the problems of the world on a 4’X5’ plywood board – and lets his 4thgraders solve them. As he describes it, there is layer upon layer of complex, global crises requiring hyper collaborative problem solving in the midst of chaos, uncertainty, and conflicting pressures. Everything is designed to go wrong on every level and in every sphere - all at once, for everyone. And yet when these children are thrown into this super-heated crucible with its recipe for immediate and complete failure, instead of giving up, they add new ingredients, performing a sort of alchemy, turning leaden problems into gold.

The game is not very realistic, nor is it meant to be…and yet, it has taught Hunter over and over again: When you take away pre-conceived notions and rigid mindsets, and add a child’s belief and confidence, problem solving suddenly seems so much simpler.

Across the world, on the other side of the planet, Kiran Bir Sethi is conducting another little experiment. She is teaching her children at Riverside School in Ahmedabad to take charge. With a contagious message of ‘I Can’, she makes them aware of world issues, enables them and them empowers them to make a difference. Take a look at the powerful result.

Two videos. Two ends of the world. One thought.

Over the years, we have drawn leadership lessons from teachers, parents, freedom fighters, political leaders, army generals, philosophers, reformists, mountaineers, athletes, even dolphins and geese...why not children?

Back in 2008, before the hurricane hit the global economy, I asked people around me: What do you do if you are outdoors and it begins to rain? Run for cover? Find a shelter to prevent yourself from getting wet? Or, do you take child-like delight at the sudden turn of events, stand your ground, maybe even leap with joy and continue playing with a quick adaptation of the game-plan? Unlike children, we adults draw comfort from predictability. As we close this erratic chapter, let's rediscover the power of child's play.

I wish you and your families a very happy New Year and a joyful journey in rediscovering the child within. Imagine 2012 through the eyes of this child. What do you see lying ahead?