The power of the uncarved block and the need to be childlike | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack | #cybersecurity | #infosecurity | #hacker

June 12, 2022


“When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the uncarved block: Life is fun!”

This excerpt from the book ‘The Tao of Pooh’ by Benjamin Hoff reminds us of the significance of being childlike. Next time someone tells you to ‘stop being such a child’, you will have a cogent argument for why you need to be a contrarian where that view point is concerned. In essence, I hope to build your confidence to continue being a child or childlike particularly while confronting naysayers.

This essay is not meant to be a primer on the Tao Te Ching, the literary corpus that forms the basis of the philosophy called Taoism. Note I am not calling it a religion because based on my understanding and experience, it is more of a way of life versus ritualistic practice of an oriental religion like Confucianism, Buddhism, Shintoism, etc. There are ample online references that you may delve in to learn more about this fascinating way of thinking and practicing, as relevant now to the chaotic 21st century, as when it was first believed to have originated (5th or 6th century BC).

Let us go back to being childlike – a concept that holds special value in Taoism. One Taoist principle is called ‘Pu’ and in Benjamin Hoff’s remarkably simple to understand (and practice if the urge arises) Tao of Pooh, Pu is alluded to as the ‘uncarved block’. At its essence, it suggests having a sense of unlimited possibility, and if you extrapolate it to being childlike – being undifferentiated or unspecialised – then there is limitless potential to that.

This same Taoist concept of the uncarved block is remarkably relevant to being childlike in building creativity, innovation and business potential too, given the sense of unlimited possibilities. ‘Having a child’s eye’ is a recurrent theme underpinning the poignant ‘The Art of Innovation: Lessons in creativity from IDEO’ by Tom Kelley. I have borrowed content from this book extensively for teaching courses on I|C|E (Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship). It is considered a seminal resource by a whole host of innovators, creativists, design thinkers, and entrepreneurs for teaching and learning about ICE. ‘Be more open to asking the childlike ‘why’ and ‘why not’ that lead to innovation’ Kelley memorably mentions in his book. Furthermore, he makes the point that developing empathy for consumers’ needs means talking directly to the child consumer especially when the product/process is intended for the child. He goes on to state that the best companies today recognise the value of talking and listening to kids; putting their products into the hands of children/teenagers, and asking them to use (beta test) and report back. This can be exceedingly empowering for both the innovator/entrepreneur as well as the young customer base.

When you include children in your prototyping and testing/iterating circles (through design thinking or other strategies, likely reminiscent of focus group discussions), you are also acknowledging and respecting the power of the child or childlike state. We did this quite successfully at the Aga Khan University at the second Hackathon planned and executed by the Critical Creative Innovative Thinking (CCIT) Forum, a co-innovation and incubation hub. The theme of ‘HackPeds’ was low-cost children’s hospital design for countries such as Pakistan; it was quite relevant to my career too, as a pediatrician and pediatric emergency physician. Alongside the primary Hackathon, there was a mini hack called ‘Hackkidathon’, and as the name suggests, in it, kids between the ages of 5 to 18 years, hacked in teams, to come up with the coolest low cost design solutions for clinical spaces where pediatric (child) patients are being seen in a hospital.

Another aspect of children is their creative power: they can be prolific in their creative output, and that can bring out the best in them and their work. That viewpoint is readily extrapolatable to the rest of us (adults) too.

Creativity takes on a special meaning for the young and the old, considering Pamela Slim’s words‘…we reinvent our lives, tell new stories, and rebuild communities when we create’.

We know that as children we remain much less self-critical of our creativity. Kids happily experiment with ideas, drawings, doodles without fear of imperfection; kids simply do not give a shit, in other words, and that is an important consideration for an innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial mindset. If you get down to the brass tacks, you realize that

it is stuffy adults (aka society, culture, ‘adults’: parents, teachers, etc.) who indoctrinate childlike mindsets that are otherwise quite willing to experiment, explore and express, kindly, inclusively and prolifically, without fear. As children we can learn to accept failures without always striving for perfection. And thus, that may truly increase our chances of producing something spectacular; and even if not, then we could still find ourselves constantly learning new things.

How wonderful it would be if we were to incorporate ‘being childlike’ into educational, innovation or any other types of paradigms or platforms, irrespective of where you are at, i.e. school, college, graduate school, hospital, bank, bureaucratic government office, private establishment, or else. It would indeed be a potent mantra for the young and old embarked on a journey of self-discovery through unlimited possibilities.

In the final analysis, nurturing one’s inner child, no matter what age or stage you find yourself in, can be a life altering process. The sense of wonder that it brings can be your go to place, where you can safely recede and chillax, without fear of reprisals.

One way of doing this is to let your inner child emerge and be constantly inspired by nature and creativity; look upon everything (plants, animals, rivers, mountains, seas, human interactions, works of art and science, and so on) with a simple sense of bewilderment, awe, and curiosity – as if ‘a newborn is looking upon life and love for the very first time’. It will and can do wonders – trust me on that.

From ‘The Tao of Pooh’ by Benjamin Hoff, “From the state of the uncarved block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with that comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work, odd as that appears to others at times.


The author is an ER physician-researcher-innovator at Aga Khan University. He writes on topics ranging from healthcare and education to humor and popular culture. He authored ‘An Itinerant Observer’ (2014) and ‘MEDJACK: the extraordinary journey of an ordinary hack’ (2021)

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