Got a marketing challenge? Ask a six year old

Last week I had the one of most important presentations of my career.

My son Dylan is exploring ‘what people do’ at Sherwood Primary School and I was asked to come in and talk about my job. Talk about pressure.

I love my job. But when you view it through the eyes of a six-year-old, it’s a little boring. So I spent some time thinking of a project that would actually connect and the result was inspirational – for me.

Six year olds ‘get it’ intuitively. After a quick witter and hum through what I do and the process of ‘coming up with ideas’ (it’s on Slideshare if you’re interested) we ran a brainstorm.

It was essentially the same process we went through while at TBWA\ several years ago when developing a new character for the Westfield Kids Club. It was fascinating. Step one: keep the brief simple. One sentence was enough.

Ours was “Create a new hero that kids would like”. This brief generated a bunch of ‘hero’ attributes like superpowers, a cap, a cape, a sword, a shield, and other such stuff. It took less than a minute.

Step two: keep the brief on track. At this point I introduced the word “friendly” and this changed the direction. We soon lost words like sword and shield and added things like “smile”. At this point we asked whether the character should be a person, an animal an alien or a robot. We landed on animal (with help). Same process: Zebra, Lion, Horse, Rabbit, Monkey, Kangaroo… then refine with the word “helpful” and we lost a bunch.

Finally – with a slight lead, but not much: a superhero monkey. Kids get logic but they don’t overthink. The fascinating thing for me was how intuitively this team of 20+ six-year-olds understood the process of refining the thinking.

“Friendly people don’t have swords,” said one. “Kangaroos aren’t very helpful,” said another. “Lions are scary, that’s not friendly”; “Some kids are scared of horses”… you get the idea. And so did they. Brilliantly. Looking for genius? Unlearn what you know.

The insight that kids are clever is nothing particularly new. Much has been written on the topic – Tim Brown from IDEO does one of my favourite Ted Talks on it. But what got me about Dylan’s class was not just how generously and fearlessly they generated ideas, but also how quickly and intuitively they understood the brief and moderated their thinking accordingly. It was scary good.

All up the talk went well. Dylan was way more impressed by the mum who works as a waitress on a boat (it was her awesome ability to balance stuff) and I have to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be as cool as a fireman.

But the big learning for me is that when it comes to coming up with ideas the best plan is to keep the brief simple and think like a six-year-old. That’s what I reckon, what do you think?

Michael Goldthorpe