Think Like a Four-Year-Old

During a recent family visit my four-year-old cousin beat me in a game of Guess Who?. Actually, beat doesn’t begin to describe what happened. He destroyed me with ease. I could say it was because we were playing a new version of the traditional game where you guess animals, food, clothing, or other objects each round. Still, I lost and embarrassingly so.

Getting Beat By a Four-Year-Old

Story goes, we were trying to guess which animal the other person had selected out of 15 options. I went first and tried to identify the species of his animal, asking if it was a bird. He said “no” and I eliminated three options. Not bad, I thought. My cousin began by asking if my animal was a common household pet. Good question! It was and he eliminated nine options. Sticking to my strategy, I followed up by asking him if his animal was a fish. He said “no” and I eliminated another three options. I was losing ground. Next my cousin asked if my animal had long ears. It did and within two questions he had narrowed down my animal to one of two options.

I don’t need to finish the story, you know how it goes. But how did this happen?

My strategy was simple, I thought. Eliminate different animal species one question at a time. Problem was, thinking in terms of species was too complex. It would have taken at least four guesses to narrow my choices down to three options. I had, by instinctive nature, overcomplicated my strategy.

My cousin, the four-year-old, on the other hand took a simpler approach. He looked at all the animals, realized half of them were household pets and the others weren’t. From there, half of those that were household pets had long ears. He didn’t think too much about each animal individually, only about what was relevant to group. He kept it simple and didn’t overcomplicate his strategy.

We Instinctively Overcomplicate

As we grow older we grow smarter and instinctively overcomplicate. We obtain more and more knowledge. We try to understand and explain everything and anything. We enjoy the complex and challenging. It reinforces our intelligence and importance.

The problem is, we don’t realize the harm overcomplicating creates. The simple solution often feels too simple to be true. We overlook it, believing we’re capable of more. Much like the game of Guess Who? with my cousin, though, the simplest solution is often the best solution. Next time you feel like you’re overcomplicating something, stop and consider what a four-year-old would think. You may be surprised!

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