I get my best ideas when I am out doing things unrelated to work or home- I end up stumbling across something that strikes me as similar, and sometimes gives me a whole new perspective on how I deal with a challenge I’m facing.  I find a whole new vein of ideas and material that I never would have considered before, and it opens up tons of new possibilities.

For example, my interests in marketing and branding were not things I set out to learn a lot about intentionally.  I started hanging around more marketers, and started to absorb stuff almost second hand.  I started reading more business books, and found the lessons they were trying to teach in a business context crossed over quite nicely into the world pf parenting and education.  Now, several years later, there are more and more books that deal both with business, psychology, motivation and learning theory, something I had to sort of create on my own previously.

Digging a little deeper, let me explain a bit more.  Marketing and branding are geared towards getting messages across in the simplest, most meaningful form possible, if they are going to be successful.  What if you took these same concepts, and taught them to children?  What if you taught them presentation skills and study skills as a separate class?  What would happen if you taught kids that by expressing themselves clearly was more important than filling up a page with the most numbers of relevant examples, but just made a few convincing points ?  What if you looked at every project as “making a case” for your ideas?

When I talk with my kids about the house rules, I can’t cover everything, and we don’t have a written manual.  But by adhering to our weird mission statement about the rules- 93% are about health and safety, and the rest are about kindness and consideration- the reason behind the rules and the compliance goes up considerably.  My kids want to know the Why’s about the rules, and we explain them, because they deserve to know that there’s a logic behind the rules and regulations, not just to assume it’s some whimsical fiat I am imposing because I’m bored.   Because we give them the whys, and let them discuss the rules if they seem unfair, or find other solutions to the problems at hand, everyone in the house is a stakeholder and has ownership of the success or failure of the plan.

The business books I’ve read have helped me understand how to “market” my messages to my kids.  It’s teaching them on how to market their messages to their teachers as well. While it’s hard for a kid to understand the grading system all the time- so often grades on projects, tests and papers seemed pretty arbitrary to me- starting to explain to them “If you looked at this paper, what grade would you give it and why?” lets them shift focus to the outside and evaluate their work with a fresh perspective.  Not always a perfect strategy, but one that can be useful, at least with kids from middle school age and beyond.  I may be a tough focus group of one, but if they can start to better self-evaluate, I won’t need to be the teacher’s proxy all the time, either.

Likewise, Chris Penn has done a series of blog posts about learning economic lessons by playing World of Warcraft.  This is again, taking a proxy for a problem- learning about how basic economic systems work, and when they get frenzied and out of control, and applying these ideas to bigger projects.  Other games, like Civilization, can teach you alot about the allocation of resources and the general competitive nature of cultures.  How far can you push someone before war seems inevitable?  When will someone try to bully you into a bad deal?  What approach works best with aggressive neighbors?

The point here being that new ideas come in all shapes and sizes.  They might strike while goofing off, reading a book outside of your typical genre, or even by overhearing people in coffee shops.  Part of my 2009 plan will be to do more of the stepping out of my protectuve shell and explore more- because you never know where that new insight will come from.