Thursday, May 17, 2007

Play

In previous posts we’ve explored the creativity of children (and the correlation to business), along with the art of entrepreneurship (playing). We’ve yet to address why it is uncool to “play” in business. If play generates clear personal (euphoria, satisfaction, self-contribution) and organizational (creative stimulation and innovation) benefits, what gives with the white-shirt, buttoned-up, I’m-curing-cancer business class?

Walt Disney got it, as encapsulated in Michael Michalko’s terrific book, Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius:

One of Walt Disney's greatest secrets was hit ability to draw out the inner child in his business associates and combine it with their business acumen. Because he made the work playlike, his associates worked and played together with a missionary zeal. Disney was a true genius who needed to collaborate with other people to express his concepts. Disney got the creative collaboration he needed by consciously creating a humorous and playful environment.
Do the rigid norms and rules of business temper our ability to “draw out the inner child”? Implications of Play for a Theory of Fantasy provides an interesting perspective:
Play becomes progressively more socialized during birth to puberty. Its symbolism after about the fourth year hews ever more closely to reality, play eventually becomes less "imaginative," and the individual forms of play give way to participation in games with rules.
Freud, as we engaged last week, believed much creative behavior, especially in the arts, is a substitute for and continuation of the play of childhood. He asserted the opposite of play is not what is serious but what is real. If something must exist or be established to be “real,” how are new creations created? As Aristotle posited, “It is impossible that anything should be produced if there were nothing existing before.”

Okay, I’m confused. Let’s dig deeper into the relationship between children’s play and creativity. Here’s another take from Michalko:
When we play, we become childlike and begin to behave in spontaneous creative ways. Play and creativity have much in common. In particular, play often involves using objects and actions in new or unusual ways, similar to the imaginative combinations of ideas involved in creative thinking. Picasso once remarked that he became a true artist when he learned how to paint like a child. Einstein has been described as the perennial child and was very much aware of the parallels between creative-thinking thought patterns and those of playful children. Einstein suggested to Piaget that he investigate the way children think of speed and time, thereby inspiring one of the psychologist's most illuminating lines of research.
A common belief is that the four-letter W word (work) tends to be a convergent activity, focusing on the task at hand, while play is a divergent activity -- it opens out and is not easy to contain. Business leaders frown upon unpredictable, difficult to contain/understand/manage variables. And, it’s taboo to toy and tinker with ideas for the heck of it. The Art and Science of Creativity provides a little illumination:
The relation of creativity to childhood play is clearest, perhaps, in the creative person's delight in playing with ideas for their own sake, in his habit of exploring ideas and situations for the sheer joy of seeing where they will lead. As Getzels and Jackson point out: This delight in imaginative functioning -- even in seemingly profitless situations -- strikes us as reminiscent of the young child's joy in exploring the world and testing his intellectual powers in make-believe and in acting "as if".
“As if” … reminds me of our “Yes, and …” post. Again, the virtue – some would say necessity – of playing make-believe emerges. The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, which belongs also to the child and appears to be inconsistent with the principle of serious work, Michalko asserts. He continues:
Psychologist Carl Jung noted that without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. It is no coincidence that geniuses take a childlike delight in painting, or composing, or searching for a grand theory of the universe. Creative geniuses tend to return to the conceptual world of childhood and are able to wed the most advanced understandings of a field with the sensibilities of a wonder-filled child.
This is getting good. More soon, but first it’s time for recess.

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