COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | CYNTHIA WARNER

Keep the kid in you alive at work

Doing so spawns innovation, positive work environment

Being an adult can be a drag at times. You feel obligated to always follow the rules, do the responsible thing and stay practical in your decisions. When those around us fail to act in such a manner, many will mutter under their breath, “I wish they would just grow up.”

The thing is this; I think being a kid every now and then is actually really good for businesses.

Here’s why. Being completely responsible and rule abiding hampers initiative and discourages creativity. If imaginative and abstract thinking was not allowed at Sapphire Energy, we would have never gotten off the ground. Our business was founded with one mission in mind: to change the world by developing a domestic, renewable source of energy that benefits the environment and hastens America's energy independence. What began as a debate among friends in early 2007 on how to create the perfect biofuel has become a dynamic corporation with facilities in San Diego, Orange Country and New Mexico. In the beginning, most people believed we were crazy; that our thought process was out of bounds and ambitious. As we continue to prove, that sort of out of bounds thinking is allowing us to change how the global energy community thinks about sustainability.

Fostering “child like” unconventional thinking both in and outside our company is a key part of how we operate. It keeps us fresh and builds strong bonds with the entire team. One of the ways we do this is by being an active participant in the San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering.

I can tell you firsthand nothing will give you greater motivation to think outside the box than to see a student’s eyes light up after they experience the sights, sounds and smells of science, firsthand. It’s an absolute blast, and I am transported right back to being 12 again!

So once a year, our team sets up a booth at the Festival’s EXPO Day in PETCO Park, puts on our even bigger “happy face” and showcases how biofuels can change the world to nearly 30,000 students. Getting as much of the crew together as possible is important for us not just because it’s the right thing to do for the students, but also gets us out of the day-to-day routine while reminding all of us why we’re in this business. Bucking a trend and creating an entirely new industry takes courage, but as critical, requires an unyielding belief that anything is possible.

Thinking this way is a perishable asset, and one that must be continually fostered and maintained. We do it by getting everyone out of the office – and for some their comfort zone – to hang out with kids and get them jazzed about studying science and engineering. When we all get back to the office, you can feel the increased level of positive energy in the air as new ideas and initiatives start to take shape. Our productivity and teamwork elevates even higher than before.

For managers looking to develop the same innovative, esprit de corps in their offices, I would highly recommend an enriching team-building exercise like showcasing your technology and your people through the Science Festival. Opportunities like these let your staff get back their childhood spirit to remind them why they got into the business in the first place. You’ll discover not only do you break down personality barriers in the office, but also spur creativity and ingenuity that has strong potential to advance your company beyond everyone’s expectation.

Being a kid is not only fun, but essential for your business.

Cynthia "CJ" Warner is chairman and CEO of Sapphire Energy. She is also on the steering committee for the San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering, produced by the BIOCOM Institute in partnership with UC San Diego and Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.

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