Does Playground Behavior Predict Future Success at Work?

Does Playground Behavior Predict Future Success at Work?

Can playground behavior predict innovation, curiosity and resilience? I had dinner recently with a group of folks who are actively involved in the startup scene either as investors or founders. Christian, our host , requested that we didn’t introduce ourselves but asked instead that someone around the table who knew something about us effected introductions. A couple of people knew me and I was introduced as someone who had spent a good portion of my life working in child and family psychiatry. I often mention this fact when I’m working with new clients both as a way to break the ice and as a tongue in cheek reference to some adult-children behavior ?.


This particular evening my experience working with children became a topic of conversation. “How”, Christian asked, “is working in a startup like leading a family or parenting children?” We took turns talking about our respective ideas and experience. When it was my turn, I spoke about the importance of attachment. Attachment, I described, comes in a number of different flavors but for the sake of brevity there are two important types, secure and insecure attachment. Secure attachment describes someone who can be independent, curious about their environment and have mature, trusting and intimate relationships with others. Insecure attachment is marked by avoidant, dismissive or anxious relationships with others.  If you want to see how we end up as either type, I suggest that you go visit your local playground. You will notice a big difference in how children play and explore their environment.


Some parents allow their kids to wander off and explore their surroundings, they can be curious and independent, yet they are never really out of sight or mind. These children grow up to have secure attachment relationships. Other parents fuss over the safety of their children. They admonish them for exploring, for not staying close by, and hover over them making sure they don’t fall or hurt themselves. The implicit message in these behaviors is ‘you’re not safe without me’. These children often struggle with attachment relationships as adults as they haven’t been able to internalize a sense of independence. More often than not these kids develop insecure or anxious attachments as adults.


Research into childhood patterns of adult attachment indicate it’s not a perfect correlation but it is a significant factor in a person’s ability to explore, to be alone, and to be able to work together. So next time you are interviewing a possible founder or new hire, one question you might want to ask is to describe their playground behavior. It might be a significant predictor of curiosity, independence, resilience and long-term success.


See @DrAnna for other posts about being an entrepreneur, startups and resilience.

More Posts

It's True. Everything You Need, You Already Have

It’s True. Everything You Need, You Already Have

You see them everywhere. Pithy exhortations telling us to buck up, look on the bright side and be happy.

Live Like You Mean It!

Live Like You Mean It!

It’s like the outfit that just doesn’t feel right or the shoes that fit a little too tight.