Child’s play

Passion does not come from above. Rather, the passion that will help your business grow starts at a grass-roots level.

Child’s play

Louis Coutts

I just have to tell someone this story. I was at a concert last night at which the students from the junior division of a Steiner school in Sydney produced a range of performances – from African drumming to an excerpt from the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony, and a range of other performances in between, including some enchanting songs by a choir of these lovely kids, cello and brass recitals. 

So what, you are immediately going to ask, has this to do with growth? Well, in one sense, nothing – but then, hear me out.

There was something interesting going on throughout the concert, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Suddenly, when silence descended upon the audience and the conductor put his arms up to commence the Beethoven piece, a kid on a cello (he must have been all of 11 years old) put his hands up and stopped the conductor in his tracks and beckoned him to come and look at the problem.

It seemed that the people on the cellos were so close together that there was no room for the music stand, and once the “conductor” (music teacher) saw the problem, he stopped and enlisted support to re-arrange the orchestra and address the problem.

All this in front of an audience of some hundreds! As it was happening, all of the kids in the orchestra bubbled over with enthusiasm to help make the changes as quickly as possible, and when all was done the conductor resumed his position, put up his hands and without further ado, the performance commenced and went on without a hitch.

I suppose things have altered since my days at school, but no one would have dared interrupt a teacher, let alone in front of an audience of hundreds.

Had they done so, the teacher would have exerted his or her authority and gone on with the performance in disregard of the difficulties of the child. Here, the reverse happened. The kid knew that he could interrupt the performance and would be respected for doing so. The teacher had sufficient humility to listen to the kid and respond to his concern and wasn’t embarrassed to do so in front of hundreds.

I suddenly understood the unbridled enthusiasm of the kids who, without exception, exercised an amount of freedom that was so uncharacteristic of my experiences of other school performances, where the children are marched silently on to the stage with military precision, take up their position and don’t take their eye of the teacher and then respond as directed.

Here, the kids walked on to the stage, talked and joked with one another until the time came but when the serious side of things started. They put in team work performance, par excellence, and the audience responded with great enthusiasm.

I realised that every one of these kids was giving it everything; no holding back, and their total technical and emotional passion was going into the activity. Their enthusiasm was infectious. When their performance was all over, they congratulated one another and vacated the stage for the people putting on the next performance.

I go into so many businesses where management wants to “take the business to the next level” and frequently find, when looking around, the absence of the passion that these kids had for their work. I see people going about their business very seriously or sometimes lethargically with little interaction.

The impression is that “work is work” and “play is play”. “That is fine,” I say to management, but “how are you ever going to achieve your potential unless people bring their combined passion to the place?”

Something happens as we grow up. We believe that we can’t be kids any longer. I wonder how much passion and potential we use by turning kids into adults when they come to work?

The guys who sold YouTube to Murdoch did so reluctantly because their business had been founded on fun and people bringing their youthful passion and inventiveness to work. They extracted undertakings that nothing would change and in response to those undertakings agreed to take the money. The first thing that changed was a moving of the business to the Murdoch business centre.

Earlier in the year in the United States, I was talking to an ex-CEO of a trucking company who said that he had grown dramatically based upon the philosophy that work has to be fun and people have to have the opportunity to be themselves when they go to work and achieve their potential.

He had come up through the ranks and had dramatically increased the value of the business to the point that it was acquired for a very high multiplier. Guess what! Within months, he was shown the door and the new owners returned to the old ways of discipline, “company policy”, “do what you are told and keep your mouth shut”.

This happens so often and people don’t understand the potential that is never achieved or why growth is so difficult.

So, last night, watching a batch of kids running about and putting on a show for a large audience, without disclosing any fear or nerves but pitching in when the time came and not being afraid to point out that something was wrong before the orchestra responded to the baton of the conductor, reminded me yet again of the great opportunities that are there if we just let people be themselves – even if this involves returning to their childhood passions.

Sorry, I just had to get this off my chest.



To read more Louis Coutts blogs, click here.



Marisca Anning writes: Dear Louis, I have two sons attending the Steiner Stream at Footscray City Primary School – for months now 5 parents (from the main stream side) have been publishing many negative stories about Steiner Education. I have enjoyed reading your story today – so thankful that there are people who see, and value the positive outcome of children who attend a Steiner School. I am involved with a group of people who have been meeting every Wednesday Night for the past two years – our vision is to build more affordable Steiner Schools in the West (Melbourne). Footscray City Primary School is currently our only option for Steiner Education in the West. We are also wanting to build a Steiner Secondary School here in the West (a big vision) – I will read your story at the beginning of our meeting on Wednesday evening to bring us some positive feedback and energy.

Trevor Bourke writes: Don’t apologise Lou! It’s a great story. It reminds us all to have more fun and celebration at the office.

Debra Jacobs writes: What a refreshing insight! To instill and encourage free expression and feedback from staff and customers is vital to grow and develop. At Meal Magic, we have incorporated it into our systems. Who can forget the famous story of the cleaner who saved his big company over $120,000 per year by suggesting they turn their lights out at night!


Joyie writes: Such an inspiring story! The teacher is a real leader and it’s a great business principle! People just forget that people need to enjoy what they’re doing to succeed in life!



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