When we were little, we were all naturals at creativity. With an unfiltered mindset and fantastical imagination, we create varied masterpieces of colorful doodles effortlessly. Yet, by the time we reach adulthood, our creativity somehow thinned out, albeit the tutoring gained from school, society, and corporate business.
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, demonstrated an activity during his Ted talk on “Creativity and Play”. The audience were asked to draw the person sitting next to them on a piece of paper. The completed drawings brought the crowd lots of laughter, quite a bit of embarrassment – and lots and lots of sorry’s. This was pointed out as evidence that we fear the judgment of our peers, and that we’re red-faced about displaying our ideas to those around us. We might have a madcap idea, but we’re afraid to share it with anyone else and we become conservative in our thinking.
On the contrary, when the same activity is done with kids, they have no embarrassment at all. They will merrily show their art to anybody with no unease. But as they grow up, the undue sensitivity to the words and opinions of others will eventually befall them.
Playfulness helps us get to better creative solutions
When we adults encounter any new situation, we have the tendency to process, to classify quickly what it is. When we see a box of toys. We quickly think that this is a cardboard box containing toys. Kids are more open to possibilities from an exploration perspective. They see a cardboard box AND toys – and they end up playing with the boxes far more than with the toys inside. Why? Because you can do a lot more with boxes than you can do with a toy.
Being playful engages the creative side of our brain. When we are fully engrossed in playing, we lose some of our psychological barriers and stop classifying, censoring or editing our thoughts – allowing creative ideas to flow freely.
The Power of Roleplay
Remember we used to dress up as policemen, superheroes, and even gather for tea parties when we were little? We wanted to explore, to roleplay, to try out that particular identity. We wanted to know what it feels like to be one.
Even as adults, analogous experiences and roleplays can be very valuable. By getting out of your own character, you are also mentally getting out of your own way of thinking. By getting into another persona also legitimizes thinking differently.
One of their designers at IDEO had his chest waxed, not because he’s vain but actually trying to empathize with the pain that chronic patients go through when they are having dressings removed. The idea of roleplay can be both as an empathy tool, as well as a tool for prototyping experiences leading to authentic creations.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
– Albert Einstein
As adults, just about everything can feel ever so urgent and serious. We could use the relaxed and playful mindset that kids possess in multiple areas of our lives. Play removes limits that otherwise constrain us to what we currently perceive, our ‘norms’. Play offers us a diversity of perspective. And diversity enhances our creativity.
Remember, there aren’t rules about how to play; only rules about when to play. Even kids don’t play all the time, obviously. It’s a fine line between being serious and being playful – we need to be able to transit in and out of play. We can be a serious professional adult and, at times, be playful. So to sum it up, we need trust to play, and we need trust to be creative.