Telling the truth about SME life today

“Maybe our greatest gift to the future leaders of business is teaching them to fail”, Alison McClymont

Leading child psychologist, Alison McClymont talks through the ways we can encourage our future business leaders to fail fast, grow-up with strong emotional intelligence and accept that vulnerability is ok.

One of my heros is Dr Brene Brown who amongst many of the other inspiring things she says about her lifelong study of vulnerability, describes vulnerability as “the birth place of innovation, creativity and change”. That may sound bizarre even, a little too new age for some readers, but let’s process that for a second- by being vulnerable, by opening ourselves up to failure, to criticism, to embarrassment- we create a space where ideas grow. Dr Brown puts this far more eloquently than I, when she says, “ vulnerability is not winning or losing, it’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” As a child therapist I sit back in awe of this quote, and imagine a world where we told children that the only critics worth listening to are those who want to drive you on- those who want to offer advice rather than shut you down. Or a world where we tell children that when we fail, we simply pass another stage of a creative process (as anyone in product design will tell you, this is simply sample testing)- what would be the impact on our future business leaders?

Doesn’t every company these days want to be “disruptive” in its mission, its brand, its social enterprise? How many job specs do we see now with “innovative thinker”, “passionate leader”, “entrepreneurial mindset”? A study revealed that one of the most searched-for term by recruiters in resumes was “design”. No surprises there, businesses have always wanted ideas people- but are we creating them? Sir Ken Robinson in his now viral TED Talk on schools and creativity described this concern in devastating detail- are we actually killing creativity by stigmatising mistakes? As he rightly points out- companies still do this and so does our school system. But if you aren’t prepared to be wrong you will never develop anything original, so when those recruiters are looking for future innovators, where are they going to go?

All children are born artsits, the problem is to remain an artsist as we grow up- those aren’t my words, those are Picassos, who I am going to suggest knows a little bit about being a creative genius. Sir Ken Robinson in his wonderful TED Talk also pointed out the sad fact that most children don’t remain “artists” as we tell them at a young age they won’t get a job being one. But when we do that, when we champion carefully constructed futures, we stigmatise all the facets of them that they find joy in expressing, we kill all that creativity, passion and fire, and simply because someone might not want to buy it one day. Is that really the way to raise a new generation of inventors, entrepreneurs, and inspiring leaders?

I originally trained as a creative arts therapist- a drama-therapist in fact, and I can assure you that throughout the arduous years of that training, many people reminded me that I would very likely never make any money doing it, and frankly what was the point of doing it anyway. I gave in to this eventually and retrained as a clinical psychologist; always missing the wonderful creative space of being an arts therapist. Until I eventually realised I could be both, I could mix both of those pursuits that I loved, because both of these professions were me. I could be academic, I could be scientific, but I could also use creativity to reach my goal of helping others. Psychologically speaking, using creativity in my work was in itself a healing exercise. As creative therapists we often say that we start from the “health” of the client, we go to space inside a person, be that adult or child, and ask them to imagine and create a new life for themselves, and I can tell you, to witness someone using that space inside them to grow and heal, has been the greatest honour of my life.

So let’s stop telling children that everything has to be right, if not its wrong. Let’s stop telling them that some subjects or pursuits are not worthy, or some are more worthy than others. Let’s start leading by example and showing courage to embrace our own creativity, show your children that you have interests and passions that you do simply just because they feel wonderful. Show your children that are willing to try something you may not be “good at”, show them that mastery takes practice, and in that practice comes failure, maybe even embarrassment, but this is simply the “sample testing” stage of product design. If you run a business show your staff, that mistakes can mean that you tried, and that the way to recover from them is not to blame others and cover your back for fear of recrimination, but to try again. If we want to breed a generation of creative empaths, let’s stop judging others for errors, let’s show kindness and encouragement in the face of failure- our children will do the same. We don’t need to teach them competition, we need to teach them collaboration, lets rebuild it, lets redesign it. I am going to leave you with the words of Dr Brown, who always says what I want to say, better than me- “when we spend our lives waiting to be perfect before we walk in to the arena, we squander our precious time and we turn our backs on our gifts and the unique contributions only we can make”.


Keep up to date with leading child psychologist, Alison McClymont on Instagram, @alisonmcclymontinsta.



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