What 5th Graders Taught Me About Generating Ideas

11 May

(Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I currently have the privilege of helping some 5th graders prepare a play about civil rights issues.

As we began to read through parts, we quickly realized we would need more people than the 6 we had gathered around the table.  And as we brought more people in, I watched a fascinating exercise develop.

Adults and leadership experts might call it “Organizational decision making.”  The kids would call it, “Let’s do this….”

As I watched the process unfold, I learned three valuable lessons about generating ideas!

1.  Good Ideas Need Air Time

Nobody will even consider an idea if they can’t hear it.  As we added more people to the group and began brainstorming ideas for props, etc., it became increasingly difficult to hear over the clamor.  (Clamor?  In 5th grade?  I know… you’re shocked!).

The problem was, there were some really good ideas being thrown out by some of the quieter types.  The other problem was there were some really “not-so-good” ideas being thrown out by kids who were loud… and had LOTS of energy.  Who do you think got heard?

And this isn’t just for kids, think about how many times this happens in any organization: the loud and energetic get heard, while the silent and thoughtful go unnoticed.

So, how do you ensure a process for your organization by which ideas can get air time? Maybe you’d like to:

  • Write them down (takes away the volume issue!)
  • Give each person a 3 minute window to pitch their idea (without interruptions)
  • Enforce a “talking-stick” type approach: only the person holding the stick can speak

Lesson 1: “Even the Nerd deserves to be heard!”

Question 1:  What process will you use to ensure all ideas are heard?

2.  Focus on WHAT is right, not on WHO is right.

I could tell that some of the ideas were being discarded by the group because of who was pitching the idea.

Maybe their track record wasn’t so good… maybe the group didn’t respect them.  But the fact is, good ideas can come from anywhere.

In “grown-up” organizations, how many times has the debate raged around personalities rather than the merit of the idea?  This is not a lesson just for 5th graders.

Lesson 2:  “Be WHAT focused, not WHO focused.”

Question 2:  How will you ensure the discussion stays on the merits of the idea and not on personalities?

3.  Good Ideas Need to be Heard… but GREAT Ideas Need a Facilitator

Again, this is nothing new: everyone is aware of the concept of brainstorming.  In fact, the 5th graders are probably more open to a group collaborative process because they haven’t developed a fully adult ego yet (in most cases!).

In our case, there was a good idea made great because there was some guided discussion that added and refined the idea.  As a result, we not only had a good idea heard, but it became a great idea that will enhance the play!

The problem with adults here can be an unwillingness to have their ideas altered.  Call it pride, ego, or selfishness.  Or you can call it what I think it is: an impediment to excellence and greatness.  None of us is as smart as all of us!

Lesson 3: “To make the good great, facilitate!”

Question 3: How will you facilitate ideas while overcoming pride and ego in your organization?

Personally, I can’t wait to see the play: it’ll be great!  And better yet, we’ll walk away with some valuable life lessons… if they got heard!

What else would you add about gleaning great ideas in your organization?


Posted by on May 11, 2013 in Leadership


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6 responses to “What 5th Graders Taught Me About Generating Ideas

  1. Shelly

    May 11, 2013 at 9:31 am

    It is amazing what we can learn from children!

    • billhogan77

      May 11, 2013 at 9:33 am

      “Out of the mouth of babes comes wisdom!”
      Good to hear from you Shelly… thanks for stopping by and I hope all is well with your ministry and church plant!

      • Shelly

        May 11, 2013 at 9:35 am

        Thanks, Bill! Things are going well. Just returned from an amazing trip to the Middle East where I spoke at a couple of women’s retreats. It is so wonderful to see God so actively at work in that part of the world. We had a prayer walk for our church this morning and it was such a blessing. God is good, all the time!

  2. mtsweat

    May 11, 2013 at 11:07 am

    The kids pack a pretty mean 1, 2, 3 punch here, Bill. Not so sure there’s anything from my camp worthy of contributing to their wonderful wisdom. I’m moved by their principle of “WHAT” focused rather than “WHO” focused. Wouldn’t that fix most of the world’s problems in a moment’s time? The “out of the mouth of babes” quote came to mind for me also. Maybe we all should find a seat and mull these thoughts a little? Good words…

    • billhogan77

      May 11, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Amen MT! That “what versus who” might be one of the hardest for our human nature to overcome… and yet one of the most valuable in terms of relationships and results!
      P.S. I’ll have to let you know how the play turns out, but the future is looking bright 😉
      Be blessed!

  3. Brent Bidus

    May 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Hi Bill…Send me an email please. Would like to catch up with you.

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