Ninja Ferret

The random thoughts of a software developer

Creative Play

In my blog post about creativity I talked mentioned that we could use Play to utilise our creative potential and I want to delve a bit deeper into my reasoning behind this.

When we are children we explore the world through play. Our parents provide a safe environment for us to relax and play without feeling too constrained, but without significant risk of us injuring ourselves, but we push against those boundaries, our minds are forming a model of the world and testing each and every boundary. Are we innately born with a knowledge of right and wrong? I don't think so, so we are taught that and we find that as we explore certain things open up to us but other boundaries stay closed, so when we are playing we are learning and our understanding of the world is driven by our imagination, which for a child is almost unbounded.

We see this all over the animal kingdom, when we see lion cubs playing and mock-fighting they are learning crucial skills about how to defend their territory and when they are chasing small animals they are learning about hunting, they don't know what to do if they caught their playmate nor do they often catch anything but they are learning all of the time. Yet, the rest of the pride are there to keep them safe and to provide some boundaries, mum will always make sure they don't put themselves in danger.

As we grow older, I believe we tend to lose this playfulness and I think that this is a sad thing. I don't expect teenagers and adults to get out the Barbie and Action Man to play but the playful spirit, the curiousity the willingness to try new things somehow disappears as the pressures of the world increase. We move from a life in the Open Mode to a live in the Closed Mode and in many ways we lose the power to access our imagination to the same level. Do we feel playful at school? Do we get inspired to be curious? Or is school the place where we learn to give up on play? Are we under pressure to achieve grades? Are we bored when in lesson? Is there pressure on us from our peers to appear cool and disinterested? I think that the education system is focussed on knowledge more than it on actually developing the capacity to get into the Open Mode or developing the key skills to allow people to learn. Quite often in life it is not what you know that is crucially important, but how easily you can find and learn the knowledge, or skills, that are now required of you, how adaptable you are and I think that the Open Mode will help you become more adaptable.

In the corporate world, Play is almost taboo. It implies a sense of frivolity, lack of focus, lack of seriousness and solemntiy that you need in order to run a successful business, or does it? Well, it depends on the type of business that you are in. The area of your business that deals with mass production, automated repetitive tasks, a production line or simple things like a warehouse where the computer tells you to put Box A onto Shelf B then the people working in that area do not really need to play, they can remain in the Closed Mode and get on with their work. However, product design, business process design, systems design, software development and many other fields require a certain amount of time to be spent in the Open Mode and these areas can make significant use of Play.

Play stimulates the imagination, stimulates creativity and allows us to explore our curiousity. Just as when we are children our companies should act like our parents and provide a safe environment for us to play, a place where we can be free to explore the world in which we work, our play cannot ever be highly focussed but it can be centred around the needs of the organisation.

What games could we play? What if we could get everyone who is involved in a business process in a room? What if routine scenarios were acted out? Perhaps a chosen facilitator could write down the processes, discuss what they wrote down, try out different processes for the different scenarios and understand each other's roles and how the process works, or doesn't for them. Could we take a problem and make people draw out how their understanding of the problem? Would everyone agree? A picture is easier to understand, makes you focus on the key points and it is a bit fun, you can use pretty colours, but they are merely talking points, they are parts of the game and we use them to gain a deeper understanding. If we communicate with each other, if we gain that understanding, then a solution may present itself.

So, it is my firm belief that we should try to find ourselves more time to play in order to make use of the amazing power of our imagination and our subconscious to explore the world around us.


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