The Sweet Spot

My middle kid is 4. She is a constant, never-ending stream of absolute side-splitting hilarity. That’s not just me saying “my kid is special,” in the standard parent-bragging way. In fact, as far as I can tell, my kid is very much not special in this regard.

Right around this age, give or take a few months, kids seem to be absolutely hilarious (my oldest kid certainly was at this age, and I expect my youngest will be as well). A few moments of reflection and it’s easy to see why: much earlier than this, and they can’t really talk at all. Much later than this, and their language ability develops to the point where they speak “normally” and don’t say the funny not-quite-right charmers that are such a hallmark of this particular development stage. This is the sweet spot.

I think this principle is easy to see when you’re looking at the hysterical half-nonsense spewed by a four-year-old, but it’s present everywhere. Between “not knowing anything” and the point where your knowledge levels out and joins the “general consensus” is a sweet spot where the most creative things can happen. You know enough to be dangerous, but you don’t know so much that you’ve started following familiar pathways all the time just because they’re familiar.

Capitalize on that. Lots of people get frustrated in exactly this stage because it feels like you’ve emerged from the stuff that’s easy to learn and you’re on the precipice where expertise feels elusive, like there’s so much more to absorb that you don’t have yet. In your race to avoid that discomfort you grab anything that looks like expertise, but what looks like expertise is often just the standard model of whatever it is you’re doing. In order to avoid looking or feeling foolish, you surrender your freedom to do really creative things in the nonsense-space.

Part of why kids are hilarious at that age is because they don’t know what things, exactly, they’re wrong about – and they don’t care. They’re trying to get their point across, express themselves, and use language to manipulate their conditions. They’re not yet focused on status or whether there’s a “right” way to do things that might be separate from the “effective” way. Be like them. Don’t rush out of the sweet spot. Stay there and play for as long as you can.

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