One of my favorite things to do is to find connections in seemingly unconnected things. In particular, in relation to parenting or my day-to-day activities, I like to think about how things relate to business. In general, I believe that life imitates business and business imitates life. Business is a collection of moments and interactions that is not unlike our daily interactions with our friends, our family or our children. And that’s why I want to talk to you about blanket forts.
Blanket forts were a staple of my youth. My cousins and I would take chairs, tables and anything else we could find and cover them with blankets and sheets and build the most extensive of forts. Multi-room dwellings with various living spaces would fill my grandparents basement and we would spend hours and hours playing within them. And then, like much of my childhood, I forgot all about it. Until recently.
A few weeks ago I was playing with my son and daughter and we were having a particularly difficult day. I was doing my best to come up with something that would fill the time between this moment and the subsequent return of my wife from work. I tried music. I tried painting. I tried any number of things. Then finally, out of nowhere, I saw a sheet sitting on top of the dyer and I had an epiphany. Blanket forts.
I built a blanket fort in our laundry room/pantry and the kids spent the next few hours coming in and out of it. It was fantastic and then I started to wonder, why had I not done this sooner? Why had I blocked out such a key moment of my childhood? Why had I failed to use such a powerful tool to help me manage my life with the kids? The answer is that we compartmentalize things far too often.
In our head, we build these rooms to hold all of our different thoughts and feelings and experiences. We build a room for our childhood, a room for our friends, a room for our family, a room for our work life, etc. In general, we keep each of these rooms very secure and very separate. Why? I think that when it comes down to it, we fail to notice how connected the various aspects of our lives are.
So what do blanket forts have to do with business? We spend so much time trying to reinvent the wheel. We try to figure out various ways to attract and retain customers when deep down we know what attracts people to us and we know what keeps people around. But we don’t seem to want to apply one to the other. We think that our life is one thing and our work is another and never the twain shall meet. But the two are so closely connected. Blanket forts are simple. Kids love them. I actually know a lot of adults who think they’re pretty cool too. What blanket forts teach us is that we’ve seen and used and developed the methods that we know are successful and we simply need to recall them.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If you want to see kids revel in pure joy, give them an empty box. That hasn’t changed for generations. But yet we think that people have changed and we think that the way businesses and people interact has changed. Sure, we’ve got social media as an advertising platform and we’ve got little tiny quad copters delivering little tiny packages but we’ve still got people that want to get something and businesses that want to give them that product, assuming they’d like to pay for it.
I failed to think about how I could connect the things that interested me as a parent with the things that interested me as a kid. I know that our kids love iPads and Netflix and masks that turn their voices into Darth Vader but they also absolutely love sheets draped over chairs and giant appliance boxes that may or may not also be spaceships and fire trucks. So the next time you’re trying to think about how you can attract people to your business and how you can keep them there, remember that we’re all just a bunch of people that like to hide under blankets. If you’re wondering what customers want from your business, think about what you want from businesses and when you’re trying to figure out what’s going to keep your kids happy for the next few hours, try to remember what kept your attention. And if all else fails, build a blanket fort.