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Top 5 Leadership Insights Learned from 8-year-olds at an Art Studio

This time, it’s not a family reunion or hockey team helping out at church that offered leadership inspiration, but rather my daughters’ eighth birthday party at a Minneapolis open art studio, Simply Jane. After this experience, it’s clear creative experiences have a place in leadership. It breaks you out of your comfort zone, encourages humility, and forces your brain to work in a focused and mindful way.

To set up the lively scene, a studio helper led the eleven girls through the studio to choose a pre-drawn canvas, then back to the paint-splattered tables for a quick set of instructions on how to use the acrylic paints. With buckets of brushes and gorgeous paint at their fingertips, the girls cautiously viewed their canvases, selected brushes and began painting.

My husband and I, however, were multi-tasking: talking with parents who stayed, getting the food ready and taking pictures. Besides being very impressed with how long they painted and how elaborate their creations were, I completely missed the magic that had transpired. The studio helper didn’t, and here’s what she said when I commented how great I thought the paintings were. “Indeed they are. They were really a great group. They encouraged each other, listened to each others’ ideas and just fed off one another to create some beautiful paintings. It’s so great to see!”

A thought emerged: If a bunch of eight-year-olds can master the art of innovation, engagement and teamwork, why can’t us grownups? And believe me, there are some alpha girls in the group. It’s not that they aren’t competitive. It was something about the activity, the artistic environment and the celebratory nature of the event, that created an atmosphere of support and great ideas.

Additionally, some kids were also stronger artists than others, and it’s a testament to the activity and environment created by the studio because it’s not like those kids’ paintings were the standouts. In fact, some of the paintings where it was clear the child was initially uncomfortable were some of the most interesting in the end.

Well, let’s get to it: here are the top five leadership insights learned from eight year olds at an art studio party:

  1. Humility: Humility is an infinite loop: Helping others grow when you have a unique skill set to offer and being open to new ideas from others creates marvelous end results. You gain by helping, they learn from you, they help others and on and on it goes.
  2. Break out of your comfort zone: Having a group go through a creative exercise where you are all rendered “uncomfortable” can be very powerful for building trust, appreciation for others and discovering new strengths. It forces a unique focus in the moment that brings forth innovative ideas.
  3. Do the above, often: One of the reasons I think kids are more comfortable in these situations is because they’re used to it — they spend each and every day doing new things. Admittedly, us adults spend our lives subconsciously avoiding doing anything new! But that’s not good. As often as it’s possible, get people together out of their comfort zones and explore a problem using creative techniques. This will foster a habit of being in the moment, encouragement and innovation.
  4. Encouragement: Everybody wants to hear they’re doing a good job, especially when starting something new. Erring on the side of praise can never be a bad thing, especially for us feedback-starved adults. When someone has the courage to bring forth a new idea, praise, praise, praise!
  5. Close on a positive: All the kids got together at the end, and the studio helper held up each painting, named the owner and said something positive about it. Everyone left the event energized and proud. Try to close meetings, events, even one-on-one interactions with one positive comment, or acknowledge some accomplishment.

Leadership doesn’t have to be complex. Be open, listen, get out of your comfort zone, teach, learn and encourage. That’s not so hard, is it?

Read more on the Everyday Life Leadership blog by Christine McLaren

Inspired by Van Gogh and Botticelli

PTG-Botticelli“Painting the Greats” might sound a little intimidating, but Jane does a great job of making art accessible to every level of student. When you arrive, the canvases are already prepared with a sketch of a well-known work of art. That means you get to bypass one of the most challenging parts of painting: drawing! From there, she provides all the supplies needed as you fill in the sketch and she teaches tips on highlighting and texturizing.
-Lisa 

Read the Broken Vessels Blog post from Lisa 

The perfect combination of professionalism and creativity

When it came time to organizing a personal experience for our Brownie Troop outing, I knew just the place to go. Simply Jane. We wanted the girls to have a fun, creative, learning experience and Simply Jane was the place to get it. We had a challenge in that we wanted to also earn a Try-It badge but weren’t sure how to make this work. We met with Jane to discuss our needs. She listened intently to us and had the perfect combination of professionalism and creativity. Jane quickly understood our needs and came up with several imaginative ideas tailored to our requirements. We were earning the ‘Family’ try-it. Jane came all need love and nurture to grow. We loved her idea! Jane then individualized garden canvases for each of the girls that represented their particular family with a flower for each member of their family. From the moment the seven year old girls walked into Simply Jane’s painted garden studio, there were smiles and looks of wonderment and excitement as Jane welcomed them to the studio. Jane’s kind, creative and nurturing manner is present not just in the way she greets and teaches but can be felt throughout the studio. Each girl went home that night with creative confidence and their own personalized painted garden filled with flowers as a reminder that families need to be cared for in order to grow.”
-Karen, Minneapolis

One of Minneapolis’s greatest treasures

I first came to Simply Jane when my oldest daughter Eden was about 20 months old. Finding stimulating activities for toddlers during the long and harsh Minnesota winter was a challenge, and we were ready for something different. The first time we came, Eden picked out a small canvas with the outline of a butterfly drawn on it. She had never painted before, and I basically held her hand the entire time: we put the brush in the paint, painted on the canvas, put the dirty brush in a cup of water, and started with a new brush in a new color. She probably lasted about six minutes before her attention span expired and she moved on to something else. We kept coming to Simply Jane weekly, and by our third visit Eden knew exactly what to do, without help or instruction. She walked in, asked for a smock, chose something to paint, sat herself down, and created her own art. I watched her, at 21-months-old, pick out a brush, choose a color, paint, put her soiled brush in the water cup, choose a new brush, and start again–quite a feat for such a young kid. We made visits to Simply Jane a weekly tradition. It has since been over a year since we first visited the store and our house is full of my daughter’s artwork. She loves painting there, and I love taking her. Jane and the other staff have become like family. They help me wrangle my 15-month- old, they are great company and they could not be more encouraging. The store looks like the setting of a fairy tale and we always leave happy. I truly think it is one of Minneapolis’s greatest treasures, and I am eternally grateful to Jane for making our winters, springs, summers and fall so much more enjoyable.
Lotem, Edina MN

The kids learned great painting techniques and walked away with something to be proud of

We held my daughter’s 8 year old birthday party at Jane’s studio. It was fabulous. We had kids ranging from 5 to 13 and they all enjoyed creating their own art with lovely designs by Jane. The kids learned great painting techniques and walked away with something to be proud of. During the party friends and parents could relax and catch up with each other. We’ve been back to the studio a few times when we are in town and always have so much fun. Its my daughter’s most requested thing to do when we are in Minneapolis, besides seeing her cousins and Grandmas. She loves it so much we even ordered a set of canvases for her to paint with friends on her 9th birthday, today!
-Lora, Arlington, VA

Offering the community something very special

I just read the newsletter, and was so moved by your story about reaching a new point with your business. What you are offering the community is something very special, and your passion and caring shines through! Thank you
-Betsy Carpenter

Talent and Spirit a Gift to the Community

Jane has demonstrated her considerable skills as an artist, teacher, collaborator and civic leader. It is not an exaggeration to say that the renewed energy in our ministry to children and teens has its genesis in the mural projects both in the making of it and in the creative process of designing them. Also, I would like to add that Jane’s commitment is not only to this church but to the Twin Cities community as a whole, especially where they may be a bounty of talent and spirit but a lack of opportunity for the residents. She is a gift to our whole community.
-Eliot Howard — Pastor of Linden Hills United Church of Christ