Why we lose our child-like wonder

To a child, being a non-expert is an asset for growth.

Being a naive child means learning how the world works (or doesn’t work) is as easy as trying something, making mistakes, and adapting.

But as the child grows up, he or she comes to be an expert on how to live within the bounds of what becomes known; to do so ensures a general happy and healthy life. You don’t have to look very far to see how this transformation occurs, how we each go from naive toddler to knowledgable youth then finally into experts as adulthood.

An empty box becomes a way to efficiently move a lot of stuff. A sheet of paper becomes a canvas for capturing notes or drawings. A bowl is a convenient container of food, while a cup is an optimal way of transferring liquids. If I put a spoon in front of you, you’d likely be able to tell me exactly what it’s for, but struggle to come up with things it’s explicitly not for.

Often the cost of experience is imagination. We trade one for the other.

To the naive child, an empty box is anything they can imagine it to be: a space shuttle, a race car, a store front, a home, a giant shoe, you name it. A sheet of paper isn’t merely a canvas, it’s a yet-to-be-folded airplane, or boat, or hat. A bowl is a drum, or a helmet, or wheel, and a cup is a magnifying glass or secret agent speaker phone. A spoon to a toddler is a guitar, a boomerang, a drumstick, a mirror, or any number of other things.

As we grow and become experts in life and work, it becomes more and more difficult to see around what we (or society) expect things to be. As a result, experts are only good at what’s proven. Creativity comes secondary to what we already know and believe. It’s difficult to be anything but the expert after so long, because you can’t forget what you’ve learned. We don’t grow up to become more child-like.

Yet to remain creative, we must learn to be an expert while maintaining a child-like spirit. We must learn about optimization and efficiency, but remain curious about why they matter.

Never losing child-like wonder, constantly asking “why” or being willing to play with your food, all allow you to instill the sense of naivety into what you do best. Which leaves the door open for what you don’t know you might not know.