Developing Serious Creativity
In part one (Unlock
Your Creativity) I suggested a creativity technique or two.
I also touched on how playfulness with words could lead to new
ideas. I used several personal examples to demonstrate techniques
for developing a more creative approach to things.
Specifically, I suggested the following:
- Ask "what if" questions.
- Look for what is essential.
- Imagine how to make something worse in order to find creative
- Play with words to generate new ideas.
Looking for essentials is perhaps the most "serious"
creativity practice discussed. The other three can be very playful,
as can many techniques. But what about playing in general? How
important is playfulness to creativity?
Playing for Creativity
Play has been recognized as important in early childhood development.
In fact I just did a search of the scientific literature online
and found many studies demonstrating how it's central to normal
mental development. Most scientists think it's a primary way
children build complex, skilled, socially adept and cognitively
This is true of many animals. Play fighting is one of the
most common forms in other mammals. For humans, according to
researchers, pretend play is crucial and normal. By age four
it can fill as much as a fifth of a child's time awake. This
includes dramatic play, jokes, wordplay, ritual or symbolic play,
imaginary friends and games. (For more on this you can search
"early childhood education," or "early childhood
Watch children and it's easy to see the creativity resulting
from this playfulness and near-constant exercising of the imagination.
But once that brain is developed should we stop playing and "get
serious." Certainly some adults who still act like children
suffer as a result. On the other hand, there is no evidence that
a playful approach to things can't coexist with "getting
the job done."
In fact, many of the most productive people in history were
known to be playful and to bring that into their work. Einstein's
imaginative trip on a beam of light is a classic example. Physicist
and joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics Richard Feynman
was known for his practical jokes and eccentric approach to things.
I'm fairly certain that billionaire Richard Branson would agree
that his creativity and accomplishments come in part from his
playful approach to things.
Yes you can be playful and serious too, and playing can boost
creativity and productivity. Here's some short personal examples:
- I was playing around with the the prickly seed pods of a
burdock plant and found that they stick so well to clothing that
I could use them in place of lost buttons to hold a shirt closed.
I added this to my outdoor tips in my ebook on backpacking. Interestingly,
it was these "burs" sticking to his dog and his clothes
that led the Swiss George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, to invent
- Playing around with "what if" questions lead me
to ask about an ebook I was having trouble selling, "What
if I gave it away instead?" It sounds silly, but I discovered
that I could make more money giving it away a chapter each week
by email. Readers who liked the book became impatient and paid
to get the entire thing immediately.
- I used to play around making walking sticks. Eventually
I found that I could sell them (I sold a few hundred before moving
on to other things).
- I read that the origin of the word "understand"
may have been from people "standing under" their leaders
or gods to hear their words. That lead me to joke that I "overstand"
something. If to "understand is "to grasp or discover
the meaning of," to "overstand" must mean something
like "to impose a meaning on." Do we understand nearly
as well as we overstand? That's a playful thought, but a serious
- Playing around with a friend one day, I invented the game
"Deal A Poem." Players draw cards with a noun, adjective
or verb on each, and create a poem using those words. It resulted
in a website (never sold the game), and turned out to be an effective
way to stimulate poetic thoughts and lines.
- Playing "explorer" in the canyons around here
(we go deep into old mines and caves), lead to the creation of
my website, ColoradoTreasureHunting.com, which will likely be
a regular source of income soon.
Can you develop serious creativity from having fun? Absolutely!
Playfulness not only doesn't get in the way of real work, it
leads to some of the most productive and creative ideas. Why
is play so important though? Why does it lead to better, more
usable ideas? That's a topic for another article, which you'll
find here: Creative Play.