C-Suite Network™

Thinking Like a 5-Year-Old Can Save Your Business (and Catapult Your Next Big Idea)

We’ve all heard the cliché about seeing the world through the eyes of a child and the value of maintaining a childlike curiosity – even as adults.

While that may sound like a strange concept for many business leaders, Jeff Hoffman says it’s not.

Jeff’s name is well known throughout corporate America and the entrepreneurial world. You might also recognize some the companies he has worked with. He was one of the earliest employees at Priceline.com and has worked with other well-known successful startups, such as uBid.com and more.

Today, Jeff is the Chairman of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, a group operating in 180 countries to make it easier for anyone to start a business. The C-Suite Network recently hosted Jeff as a part of its Digital Discussion Leadership Series and what a conversation it was.

Through his years of business experience, Jeff believes we’ve all lost our childlike wonder. Adults, he says, tend to get too narrowly focused on our industries to see what’s happening in the world around us.  


He came to this conclusion a few years ago after taking care of a 5-year-old for one day. 


“I was going to stay home with her, and I suddenly realized I left some work at the office to work on at home. So, I said to her, ‘Get in the car, we got to run to the office,'” Jeff recalled. “The five-year-old starts walking. She’s shuffling her feet. She’s looking down.” 


“She goes, ‘Hey! How do they make carpet?‘ I said, ‘Who the hell cares how they make carpet? My company doesn’t make carpet. I’m not in that business. Get in the car!'” 


“She said, ‘I just wonder how they make carpet.’ I said, ‘I don’t. just go!’ She said, ‘Do you not know? You’re an adult!’ I said, ‘They don’t teach you carpet when you become an adult.’ She shook her head in disgust.” 


Jeff said this exchange continued as they made their way to the car. The five-year-old girl asked about the car windows and other car parts, including the strip that sits between the back passenger and the driver-side window.  


“I said ‘Oh, my God. Seriously?!? Just get in the car! That doesn’t have a name,'” Jeff recalls. 


Years later, after telling that story during a speech in Detroit, Jeff says he now knows that part is called a B-pole. All thanks to a 5-year-old.


While the story is cute and good for a laugh now, it got Jeff thinking. 


“What else do I not know? She wondered about everything,” Jeff said. “I started realizing that when I paid attention to the world’s most creative leaders, they actually take the time to go research something they’ve wondered about periodically — that is not in their line of sight.” 


Jeff even has a name for this practice. He calls it “info sponging.” Every day he takes 10 minutes to learn a new thing he really didn’t need to know. 


For example, after the girl’s question about car windows, Jeff did some research. He ended up on the Corning company website. Most people know corning for its cookware and coffee pots, but what you don’t know is Corning is using technology to make glass better. He ended up visiting the Corning Innovation Center, ultimately partnering with the glassmaker on two smart glass projects that came to fruition as a result of his research. 


“I would have never gotten involved in the creating of smart glass and smart windows for buildings if a five-year-old hadn’t wondered how they make glass,” Jeff said. “Wondering about the world around you, spending 10 minutes a day to learn one new thing a day you don’t need to know is where all the good ideas I have come from.” 


Jeff’s adventure with the five-year-old didn’t end at the car. When they got into the office, she saw two machines in the lobby and wondered what they were. Much to his dismay, he didn’t know and neither did the office manager. After asking around the office, the CFO figured out what they were.  


“(The CFO) says, ‘I’ve got some good news and bad news,'” Jeff recounted. “The good news, I know what they are. In the days before PowerPoint, we used to print our presentations and bind them in these three-ringed binders. The bad news is we’re still leasing those.” 


If you’re keeping track of Jeff’s story so far, the five-year-old not only helped him uncover a new business opportunity through curiosity, she also saved the company he was working for at the time money. 


It sounds like we need more five-year-olds at the office!  


All joking aside, Jeff took what he learned from the five-year-old and made it a part of his company’s culture. 


“I started, something that we do twice a year, we call it ‘Five-Year-Old Day,’” Jeff said. ”I asked everybody in my company to wander through our entire business and operation and act like a five-year-old. Question everything we do and keep asking why until we either know why we’re still doing that, or we simply stop doing it.”   


He continued, “It’s just simply inertia, and a five-year-old’s idea helps us literally redesign the company.” 


Holding an annual Five-Year-Old Day is a great idea and just one highlight from my interview with Jeff. We also discussed his current work helping entrepreneurs, his thoughts on a perceived talent versus a resource gap in business today, why business owners need to get out of their own way to help their companies succeed, and why COVID-19 is an alarm clock for entrepreneurs.  


There were so many great insights and relevant takeaways that you’ll have to listen for yourself here. If you want to gain access to some of the best minds in business, join our Digital Discussions and consider joining the C-Suite Network. For half the cost of a business lunch a month, we offer the best-in-class networking and content to help make you the most strategic person in any room. Click here for more details.  



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