Why Creative Play Works
(This is the third in a series. The first part is Unlock
Your Creativity, and the second Serious
Playing is not just for kids. A playful and creative approach
to problems often leads to the most useful solutions. But why
is playfulness so valuable? There are a number of possible reasons.
Here are three.
Creative Play Relaxes Inhibitions
Where are you more likely to suggest a new idea; in a group
of people who are overly serious, or one that is playfully brainstorming?
Probably the latter. Not all new ideas are useful, of course,
but having more of them increase the odds of finding a good one.
That's why a playful environment, which relaxes ones natural
inhibitions, is more conducive to truly creative and useful ideas.
Imagine a child playing with toy buildings. He sets a grocery
store next to a house. "That's where we live," he says,
pointing at the house "and now we don't have to drive to
the grocery store." An adult might say, "But what about
the other houses?" The child, not inhibited by ideas of
what is "reasonable," moves the store over and says,
"Now they don't have to drive to get groceries."
Many adults would feel to "silly" saying, "Why
doesn't the store come to us instead of us going to the store?"
But overcoming such inhibitions and encouraging playful thinking
can lead to some creative and useful ideas. In this case it suggests
a store in a large truck that moves from street to street to
bring its products to the customers. Such a business could have
a regular route, so you knew when it would arrive. Who knows?
One truck driving around might make more sense than a thousand
cars going to a store that is miles away.
Play Stimulates Imagination
Albert Einstein said, "To stimulate creativity, one must
develop the childlike inclination for play..." Nowhere was
that inclination more evident in him than in his imaginative
"thought experiments." For example, he imagined standing
in two elevators and dropping a ball. The first elevator was
on Earth, the second in space, moving upwards with an acceleration
equal to that of one Earth gravity. It was easy to see that in
both cases the ball would fall to the floor at the same speed.
In fact, from inside the elevator there would be no way to tell
the difference gravity and acceleration. This imaginative journey
lead Einstein to formulate the equivalence principle that built
the foundation of his theory of General Relativity.
Einstein made it clear that he valued imagination more than
knowledge, and he was well known for his playfulness. A playful
approach stimulates imagination, and may explain why so many
successful entrepreneurs, inventors and idea-creators have that
"childlike inclination for play." Even when playing
is unrelated to any goal other than enjoyment, it opens up the
mind to new thoughts and exercises the brain. For example, playing
a real-estate-based board game naturally stimulates me to imagine
what I would do if the situations presented were real, and this
prepares my mind for real life challenges.
Play Makes The Rational Mind Our Servant
Another quote from Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a
sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have
created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the
gift." This may not be easy for the average "rational"
person to understand at first, but it is a powerful idea. Our
minds often simply explain things, make them fit into the body
of knowledge we have. We put so much emphasis on this process
that we forget that to explain is not to create.
An idea pops into our heads (our consciousness), and then
we explain it. But what caused it to be there in the first place?
That may not ever be entirely answered, but that process of creation
is more important than the rationalizations we invent, isn't
it? It is more important, for example, to have the idea (and
then the reality) of a computer or an artificial heart, than
to comment on them afterwards. Don't we often over-value the
thing that explains the wonders of the world - our rational mind
- while ignoring that which creates or recreates or appreciates
these wonders - our intuitive mind?
Playing is a way to get that relationship working the right
way again. In the example above of the movable grocery store,
the playful intuitive thought is made useful by the rational
mind, which shows how it could be accomplished. That is an example
of the rational mind being the "faithful servant."
Playing around with ideas opens up all the possibilities, and
then the rational mind helps make them realities.