Over a period of thee-and-a-half years, researchers at Johns Hopkins’ conducted four experiments on 110 preverbal 11-month-olds to determine how they responded to surprising vs. predictable situations. They let the children watch a ball pass though a presumably solid wall, an object float in mid-air and an object disappear and reappear. They also had more predictable situations where the ball bounced off a solid wall, an objected obviously supported by something underneath and an object remaining in place without disappearing. The children who witnessed the surprising situations were given the option to explore the object from the experiment or choose new toy. Babies chose the surprising object rather than the new toy.
When they got their hands on the ball that passed through the wall they banged it on the table to check how solid it was. When they held the object that floated in the air they dropped it to the floor to see if it really could fly. And here’s the kicker. The infants showed no evidence of learning anything from a predictable object.
The take-away for us, as adults, is that new and surprising situations; encounters that challenge our view of the world; and outcomes that defy our expectations are prime opportunities for learning. These encounters can provide growth that is transformational, not just incremental. We must embrace those situations rather than retreat from them. They enrich our lives.
Another set of researcher believe that the reason time seems to fly by as we get older is that all those new and novel experiences have already happened. We are only left with the familiar and the predictable. Finding ways to embrace the newness of every day and the new possibilities each encounter brings makes life interesting, more enjoyable and helps us savor every day. This is also the key to effective leadership for the long haul.