Home Anthill Magazine Important small business lessons you can learn from a 10-year-old

Important small business lessons you can learn from a 10-year-old


Managing a small business is hard. But so is being ten years old. When we were ten, we’d graduated from finger paints to word problems, from learning to read and write to how to write curses, and were starting to learn about how the world works in science and history.

This article takes best practices of the everyday life of a ten-year-old and applies them to the world of small business. It’s a good mix of common sense with exercises from Jurgen Appelo’s new book #Workout: Games, Tools & Practices to Engage People. Improve Work, and Delight Clients. Why will these simple steps help you manage your small business? Because we really haven’t changed much. We still have the same intrinsic motivation as when we were ten. We are curious, crave acceptance and social standing, want to become good at things, and want to do things for ourselves but also among friends.

So give up, you haven’t grown up that much. And that’s a good thing! So here are certain tricks that’ll make small business management just like riding a bike.

What you learn from the experiment is more important than the result.

In the small business world, you are always looking for a way to balance keeping steady income while getting an edge on the competition. If you only focus on a regimented system of best practices, your team would do well until your brand became stale.

Try using a Celebration Grid to celebrate the balance of learning and best practices, fostering a culture of innovation and experimentation. Simply split the a piece of paper into three columns: Mistakes, Experiments, and Practices; split the top into Successes and the bottom into Failures, with a diagonal line running from top left to bottom right. Occasionally have a party to celebrate learning where you fill out the grid, talking about the successes and failures of your experimentation.

  • What’s working?
  • What could we actually do more of?
  • What didn’t work but we can learn from?

What falls in the center top–small experiments that result in success–then move to the right to become Best Practices that are spread throughout the team. See? Learning is fun!

Hang what you’re proud of on the fridge

What are your business values? Why do you do what you do? You and your team should be rallied around a common mission and vision. Like all positive things, having visible reminders help us strive to do good. Create a work expo or happiness wall–decorate a wall or meeting room with reminders, like photos of happy team members, letters from delighted clients, anything that motivates you. Won an award? Brag about it! Or make up your own office awards and proudly display them!

Always say Thank You.

Remember how your mom had you write a Thank You note to all your relatives after your birthday party? Well, that’s a dang good practice, whether you’re applying for a job or delighted with a client or provider. And it’s really important within your team. Use Kudo Cards or Rippas to shout out thanks, appreciation and recognition within your team or across your whole company. Have cards that allow any team member to recognize any other team member. Ask that they be signed and specific.

Collect them in a box or add them to your work expo. Once a month or so, have coffee, donuts and a little party where you read off all the peer-to-peer recognition. If you want to, you can even mix the kudos up and draw one at random for its recipient to receive a small prize, like leaving two hours early on Friday or tickets to a concert in town.

Have a remote team? Tweet a kudo!

Make sure people know how you feel

If anything in the business world makes us feel like we were a kid again, it’s those dang annual performance appraisals. Dreaded by both sides of the desk, nothing makes you feel like the bad kid at the headmaster’s office. This practice is ridiculous for many reasons, but mainly because, in the fast-paced startup world, even quarterly feedback is too slow. You need to be giving constant feedback, focusing on improvement and how that person can grow. Try implementing regular feedback wraps to help give focused feedback in context, not months after the fact.

All constructive feedback should:

  • List observations, stating specific examples.
  • Skip the Praise Sandwich. Keep it in logical, spatial or chronological order.
  • Say how you feel.
  • Offer concrete suggestions for how it can be improved in the future.
  • Like a letter to parents, it’s always best when written down.

Sharing is caring and class participation counts.

Most companies have bonuses for fiscal results, but what about team collaboration? What about the people like accountants, assistants and receptionists who do a lot of work, but don’t have numerical goals like sales?

The principle of Merit money maintains expected salaries, but adds a new variable based on collaboration not competition, and, unlike salary and sales bonuses, are exclusively based on the perception of your peers. This drives intrinsic motivators like our desire to feel accepted and recognized in a community.

Monthly, you and your entire team give away 100 points (hugs, hearts, high fives, whatever you want) each. Each person chooses who her money goes to based on her own personal set of criteria, with a focus on your company values and how those people help.

Peer feedback is essential to this, so when you give away your merit money, you have to explain why the person/s deserved it. Then, sporadically, you can distribute some company profits based on merit money. You can use a tool like Bonusly to manage it all.

Don’t forget about recess!

First and foremost, eating at your desk is a suicidal exercise. It’s scientifically proven that taking regular breaks helps keep you healthier and more productive. But it’s more than that. Like the 20-percent time that Google had up until recently, having slack time, education days or exploration days at your office are important to create bursts of creativity and innovation.

You allow your teammates (and yourself!) a certain amount of time a week or days a year in order to learn about what they want. You can read a book, attend a conference or course online, or code something new, whatever you want so long as you celebrate self-education.

So, kids, what have you learned?

What best practices did you learn from your kids or as a kid that should be applied to your office today? Tell us below how playing well with others and treating others as you’d like to be treated flows into the boardroom.