Think and Behave Like a Five Year Old

Researchers have studied the Entrepreneurs and Innovators of our time, and discovered that what sets successful Innovators apart from others, is not just how they use their brains, but how they behave.

What is surprising about the habits of Innovators is that they are not unique to the adult world. In fact we were probably at the height of our Innovativeness when we were just Five Years Old.

For the Five Year old, there are no boundaries. Buckets become castles, a cardboard box a playhouse. Everything is possible. A Five Year Old carries no assumptions about their world; they approach life cheerfully and with enthusiasm.

So shed some of your adultness, shake off your pressures, forget about tomorrow’s deadlines and inhabit the world of the Five Year Old so you can create and invent fearlessly.

The Habits of Serial Innovators can be distilled into 9 habits:


Like any ability we wish to master, a level of commitment and discipline is required. Serial Innovators make Innovation a Routine part of how they work, rather than relying on Accidental Innovation.

Serial Innovators have Processes to make Innovation routine. These processes guide them through the journey of looking for new ideas and how to implement those ideas for commercial viability.


Five Year Olds are true natural collaborators. Play is just more fun when shared with a friend or two. As we grow up society and then business places a lot of emphasis on the performance of the individual. It’s Innovation that returns us to a more communal way of working. I like to think of Innovation as a Team Sport.

For ideas to germinate and for Innovation to happen we require both a diverse set of perspectives and a mix of Thinkers and Doers. Some people of better at breaking down existing ways of working and imagining new ones and others are excellent at turning vision into reality.

Author Keith Sawyer says collaboration is not just nice to have, but when it works well it creates something called Group Genius. A kind of magical effect where the intelligence and creative outputs of the group are greater than the sum of the individual outputs.


Just as children find curiosity in observing sometimes the most mundane of things, like a star or a ladybug, Serial Innovators find inspiration in the mundaneness of everyday life. By simply keeping your eyes open and watching people go about the business of everyday life, new insights may help solve a persistent challenge.

Observation is about getting us out of our Organisational Perspective and into a more Human Perspective and thereby becoming Students of Human Behaviour once more.


Just like a Five Year old, the Serial Innovator is intensely curious about everything.

While adults can be creatures of habit, the Innovator does not seek comfort in the familiar but willingly explores new territory.

Marcel Proust, the French Author puts Discovery in perspective, he says “The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but seeing with new eyes”.

Habit 5: PASSION

Five year olds seem to have no restraint; they have a huge capacity to throw themselves fully into the things they enjoy.  Its one of the reasons why life is so delightful and terrible all at the same time!

Innovators also have no restraint when it comes to pouring thousands of hours into a project without much regard to the lack of much else in their life.

There are sure to be many hurdles on the road to taking an idea to market, filled with emotional highs and lows. It helps, if you are motivated by more than just doing a job, but driven by a Higher Purpose. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying he wanted to “put a ding in the universe”. Imagine what you could achieve in your field if you were motivated to put a ding in the universe!


Just as questions are a way of life for Five Year olds, Innovators ask many more questions than non-innovators. The primary role of these questions is to challenge assumptions: WHY do we things this way? Why don’t we do things another way? HOW MIGHT WE make things better? WHAT IF we did something different?

We lose our childlike ability to ask provoking questions as our School Experience shifts importance to Answers, and diminishes the value of good questions.

According to Peter Drucker, this Answer Culture does not serve us in the business world. “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.”


For a Five Year Old, a simple cardboard box becomes a gokart or a playhouse. Somehow we have the knack at this young age to combine seemingly unrelated things. This ability is called Associating, it’s a fundamental skill in Creativity.

What Innovators do better than most, is that they are able to connect diverse things and experiences to create new ideas. For Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata Group, when he combined a scooter and the need for a family car, the $2200 Nano was born!

To improve your chances of cross-pollinating ideas in your own head, you need a lot of things in your head. Thomas Edison claimed: “to invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk”.


Five Year Olds seem blind to the differences between people, their ability to connect with other kids has no boundaries.  Innovators make a conscious effort to meet people with from backgrounds; they realize that an idea mundane to one group can be a valuable insight in another.

Some companies actively seek collaborations and partnerships to develop new product ideas. In Innovation circles this is called Open Innovation. P&G are Open Innovation champions with more than 35% of their new ideas coming from outside sources.


For Five Year Olds the simplest of toys and blocks become an opportunity play with ideas and to invent. So when a tower of toys and Lego comes crashing down, the Five Year Old keeps going until they are satisfied with the result.  These are the humble beginnings of experimentation or Serious Play as it has been defined.

We think of Experimentation as the domain of Scientists in white coats, but this is as much the domain of Entrepreneurs and Innovators.

There are 3 ways Innovators Experiment: Firstly, they open themselves up to new experiences. Secondly, they manifest ideas through visualizing them or building prototypes. Its about using your hands to build things as much as your mind.

Thirdly, they consciously switch modes; from a business mode which can be more serious, to a Creative Mode which is more expressive and playful.

So starting today, channel the Five Year Old you once were, to enter the world of the Serial Innovator.

I leave you with the familiar words of Mark Twain with an additional line of prose for the aspirant innovator:

“Dance like nobody’s watching;

Love like you’ve never been hurt.

Sing like nobody’s listening

Live like it’s heaven on earth.”

And Invent fearlessly like the Five Year old you once were!