A Conversation with Brad Montague on Being Better Grownups

Brad Montague

Brad Montague is a writer and director on a mission to create meaningful things for kids and former kids. He is creator of the hit web series “Kid President“, author of ‘Becoming Better Grownups‘ and the New York Times bestseller ‘Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome‘. He is a popular storyteller both online and in real life with stories of birds, balloons, and floating people which have captured the imaginations of classrooms, boardrooms, and households throughout the world. As an illustrator his work is regularly featured in Joanna Gaine’s The Magnolia Journal.

Brad recently released a new book titled Becoming Better Grownups: Rediscovering What Matters and Remembering How to Fly an inspiring and joyful read that weaves together lessons of success, fear, regret, gratitude, love, happiness and dreams to revel the true reason we are here: to fly, and to help others fly.  Beautifully designed and featuring Montague’s own illustrations that appeal to the kid in all of us, Becoming Better Grownups shares the purpose and meaning we can all discover merely by listening, and reveals that–in a world that seems increasingly childish–the secret to joy is in fact to become more childlike.

In this exclusive interview, I spoke to Brad to learn more about what we lose when we become grownups, and why we need to perceive the world through the eyes of our inner child.

Q: What’s different when we look at the world through the eyes of ourselves, as children?

[Brad Montague]:  From a young age, I found that when spending time with someone older than me- a connection point would be talking to them about their childhood. I would see their posture change, their eyes change, and everything would light-up within them as they talked about who they were as a kid… the things they loved…. When people talk about their lives as children, there’s a lightness, a playfulness – it just pulls people into your orbit – it’s a whole different vibe. I did a web-series where I interviewed world-leaders using tin cans with string attached; there was a totally different vibe than if I was having a hard-hitting journalistic interview with them. I got to something truer- perhaps because it felt like play. They were vulnerable- they were open about their fears- they would talk about the wonder and beauty of their job, not just the worry it brings. When we get back to a childlikeness, we get to do something that’s true and essential to us.

There are so many ways to look at the world, our lives, to look at meaning and existence. If we can hang-on to that childlikeness as we grow – we still gain wisdom and experience – we still understand responsibility, hurt and pain – but that childlike spirit can open up our lives to imagination, dreaming, hope and empathy. This is very different from a childish spirit – which comes from a place of fear – where you close your hands into fists and throw tantrums.

Q: How can a childlikeness reframe our sense of identity?

[Brad Montague]: When you meet young people- you realise that they’re little investigators. They don’t have much interest in your occupation, but they do look for connection points- what do you like? Do you resonate with this thing I made? Can I show you this? Do you like the same superhero as me? What’s your favourite animal? – To young people -these questions are way more important than whether I’m a writer, director, or what awards I’ve won. It’s about our shared humanity – and there’s something so beautiful about that. We grow-up and we see each other and think ‘what can I get from you?’ rather than ‘what can I share with you?

There’s a direct simplicity to the innocence of a child asking can we be friends? We need more of that in our world.

Q: Why do we outgrow so many of our most important qualities?

[Brad Montague]:  There’s so many things we work hard to outgrow which we should – these are childish things – but there are these other childlike things which we should have hung-onto – things that we outgrew because we dismissed them as being too basic without realising how important they are for life – and it makes sense, right? We stop sharing ourselves openly because it hurts to be criticised or rejected.

We need to start- from an early age- being taught what it means to grow well– what it means to hang on to the things we need to hang onto, and what we need to let go of.

Q:  Do we do enough to empower young people?

[Brad Montague]: Just think about Netflix, there’s a family section, a kid’s section, and everything else- it’s the same in bookstores. These separations extend out to classrooms where we say, ‘you’re X age, so this is what you’re going to learn…’ guess what – the data shows time and time again that the best way to learn is through relationships. If you want to develop in a healthy manner – you need to have people who look you in the eyes and tell you that you matter. It’s not just children – it’s everyone at all stages. We benefit from spending time with people who are younger and older than us. We learn from walking side by side and learning alongside each other.

When I became a father and started working-in and visiting classrooms all over the United States, I saw this first-hand. Teachers who were learning, asking questions, and walking through subjects with kids. This informs a lot of my art- I create spaces where kids and former kids, can come together.

Q:  What is the power of art in exploring our inner child?

[Brad Montague]:  Art is playful, it’s a space where you know it’s okay to make a mess- to scribble- and for children it’s important to give them a space, through art, to share their voices – giving them validity through our attention.

I did a project on hope where I asked young people to depict this big-little-word hope. I created art from what they sent me, it was generative, and that’s really compelling to me. I love to put a question to the world, and remix what comes back.

There’s a map I made, which I started using in classrooms, to help people talk about parts of their inner lives that they don’t always talk about. On the map – you travel through Doubt Valley, Comparison Canyon, the Fog of Fear – and now the map is used everywhere from schools to prisons where it’s being applied as a part of rehabilitation programs. In everywhere from schools, to the most unlikely worlds, this little map- this little piece of art- is helping people deal with some of their deepest challenges.

Q: Can a childlike approach help us through crises?

[Brad Montague]:  I have great respect for how children navigate stress, taking so much on every day, yet still dancing- jumping in puddles- and playing. It’s sometimes said that when times are ugly, the greatest form of protest is beauty – there’s a joy in rebelling against what it is and creating what could be. Children remind us that during great challenges, possibilities exist. This doesn’t negate the bad- this doesn’t mean we’re turning a blind-eye, but it means that we acknowledge our circumstances and still find beauty.

think that’s what children do so easily – and we forget when we grow.  We need to team-up the wisdom of people who have grown and the wisdom of young people who are just now growing, that leads to something beautiful.

Q:  What really matters in life?

[Brad Montague]:  I’m hungry for wisdom – I’m hungry to figure out what it means to be alive, and what to do with this thing we call life. Now that I have kids, I want to help them to figure out the answers to those questions too – but you know what? It’s not just me – that’s what we all do and have done – it’s the same process that’s created everything and anything.

I’ve not arrived any closer to the answer for the meaning of life, but I have realised that there is a lot more for me to discover and learn as I grow and help my kids grow. I’ve learned that no matter what- the beauty of our relationships is critical- how much we matter to each other and how important it is for us to always have eyes that see that.

There’s magic all around us- but we don’t often see it, and that’s why children matter- whether we spend time with them, or the child inside each of us – that childlike view can help you find the true beauty, and meaning, in life.

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.