How to Increase IQ
Brain Exercises

Benefits of Meditation
Mental Math

Riddles and Puzzles
Lateral Thinking

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 solutions.

- 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 flexible brains.

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 development" online.)

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 Velcro.

- 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 question.

- 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,, 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.

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