All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten

June 4, 2012 | by Marla Topliff
All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten

(A Guide for Global Leadership)

My first job was at my dad's toy store when I was 7 years old. We sold lots of other things as well, but all I remember was the toys. At 7 working in a toy store was a kid's dreams come true. My title was No. 1 customer service rep, or the Toy Expert, and I was a huge hit with the customers! Of course it didn't occur to me at the time, but this was actually a pretty good marketing ploy.

Max Kalehoff, VP of Marketing at, defines marketing as, "the art and science of creating, delighting and keeping customers [engaged], while making a profit and building enterprise value," and that was exactly what I was doing, and I was doing it well. So if the question of how a 7-year-old kid learned the basics of marketing seems perplexing, it certainly wasn't from Max, he wouldn't be born for another 15 years yet, the answer is simple.

As much as I would like to claim natural brilliance, the honest truth was, that as a recent kindergarten graduate, the true and ultimate lessons to a happy and successful future were still very fresh in my mind, because "All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school," according to Robert Fulghum -- The actual meaning of words to live by.

As the years passed and the world moved on my kindergarten lessons seemed to fade further and further to the back of my mind until I could hardly remember them at all. Then in 1988 Robert Fulghum wrote this beautiful essay that reminded me of the 16 true and ultimate lessons for a successful life. I have remembered and use them everyday since.

These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder.
  • Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together and be aware of wonder.

Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Operations Management

Marla Topliff
Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza, has helped grow the Chicago franchise from 60 stores in 1999 to the 170 national brand that it is today. She supervises all aspects of marketing, customer service, store communications and vendor relationships. wwwView Marla Topliff's profile on LinkedIn

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