Category Archives: Play

Are you following unnecessary rules?

There are many conventions and rules which govern our lives and which we mostly don’t question or think about. Most of these rules are there to protect us and maintain a civilised society. But did you ever stop to realise how many rules we impose on ourselves unnecessarily? I had a great experience of realising this the other week during a course.

As part of the course we played a game called ‘Diminishing Resources’. It works like this:

Summary – The floor of the room is set up with various sized squares, made of newspapers, or flip charts or A4 or 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper. Participants are asked to move from one square to another. After two or three moves, begin to remove papers, forcing participants on to a smaller number of squares until new and different solutions are arrived at.

Instructions –  To begin, everyone must have both feet in a square; when I say “change,” you must move to a new square; we continue when everyone has both feet in a new square; be brief in the setup, refer questions to the guidelines.

When I was playing this game I realised my self imposed rule of standing only on the paper squares (it wasn’t in the instructions, they only said to stand on a square) when I saw a fellow participant standing on a chair with a square seat. After this I realised the carpet tiles were square, and then that the room was square, so I could stand anywhere and be on a square.

This was a powerful realisation for me – how often am I hindering my creativity by these subconscious, unnecessary rules?

My learning from this game is to try and be more aware of all the possibilities when considering a problem or idea. I will try to ask more questions about how and why particular solutions are created.

I encourage you to use this game with your team or teams/groups you work with – it’s a fantastic kinesthetic and experiential way to realise the power self imposed rules have over our creativity.

If you have experienced this game, what did you think? How else might we expose those self imposed rules?


How an escalator can inspire ideas

You know what it’s like, you’ve been working on an idea or challenge for ages and you’ve reached the point where your mind is bogged down and you’re not moving forward anymore. This is the point when getting ‘fresh eyes’, a different perspective will help your thoughts move again.

For inspiration on looking at situations from a different perspective, have a look at this TED Talk from Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere:

This video shows that when you look at your surroundings with fully open, fresh eyes (and mind), the everyday location or situation (such as an escalator) can be transformed in a way which lifts the spirits.

After watching Charlie Todd’s TED Talk I wiped away the tears of laughter from my now (re)freshed eyes and realised how important this kind of approach to the world is for idea generation and development. Todd stands back from the things we see in everyday life (an escalator), and looks at them from a different perspective (a captive audience who would welcome entertainment). If you can stand back from your idea and look at it from a different perspective, you might be amazed with the results.

Techniques which can help you gain a different perspective could be: considering your challenge from a child’s point of view; representing your idea in LEGO; just going for a long walk and forgetting about it for a while. Anything which prompts you to look at your idea from a different angle will work.

How do you get ‘fresh eyes’? I would love to know your techniques for gaining new perspectives on challenges.


Do you search for ideas with a spotlight or a lantern?

To an adult it’s a cardboard box for packing books. But to a child it’s a car, a giant’s hat, a king’s table… As we get older and gain more experience as adults, this experience affects how we look at the world. Hence a cardboard box tends to be just for packaging, as from experience that is the main use we have seen for it.

This has an effect on how adults search for ideas. In a recent TED Talk this was described as the ‘spotlight’ or the ‘lantern’ of consciousness.

This talk highlights that adults have a very focused, purpose-driven, ‘spotlight’ kind of attention. Young children and babies don’t have the ability to focus yet. They can’t get rid of all the interesting things that could tell them something and just look at the important thing – their ‘lantern’ of attention lights up many things.

When we are searching for ideas, starting out with a ‘lantern’ and then using the ‘spotlight’ is an effective process.

How can adults regain their ‘lantern of consciousness’? It’s suggested in the TED Talk that one way of doing this is to put yourself in a completely new situation. Perhaps you could learn a new skill, a new and completely different language – maybe with a different alphabet, or visit a new city without a guidebook or map.

How will you light up your lantern?


Adopting a Thai view of life

The Thai word for fun is ‘sanuk’ (สนุก). In Thai culture this has a much broader and far reaching meaning than in English culture. It expresses the sense of finding or creating fun/satisfaction in any situation or task.

In this picture, for example, the men are trying to unscrew the pipe. They turned it into a game by trying to find the most inventive form of leverage, laughing all the while.

I was reminded of this Thai perspective when I went to a recent Applied Improvisation Network workshop in London.

We had the task of improvising a game to solve a particular workplace problem. Our group was tackling poor levels of cleanliness in a coffee shop. Cleaning-what a tiresome job. Not so! We devised a game using different noises to represent different cleaning jobs, and a noise to celebrate when the cleaning was completed. So, someone spots a table needs cleaning, makes the table cleaning noise and whoever is free or nearest does it, repeats the noise when it’s done, and then everyone makes the celebrating noise.

The result was a noisy, fast moving game with a sense of group achievement – and lots of laughing! This really encapsulates sanuk – you can find fun/satisfaction even from cleaning.

This workshop also made me realise that the flow of ideas is easier if you are looking at the task/problem from a gameplaying point of view. So what challenges can you turn into a game?

Play personalities

“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” Abraham Maslow

I saw this quote and thought about the ‘play personalities’ Stuart Brown lists in his book Play : kinesthete, collector, joker, explorer, competitor, director, artist/creator, storyteller.

Brown suggests that our lives would be more enriched if we lived in accordance with our play personalities. I identified with kinesthete, explorer, director and artist/creator – and just by reminding myself of my play preferences, I have improved my creativity. For example, by expressing my kinesthete personality in Zumba, I have more energy to work and often use the dance steps to work through a problem when I’m stuck!

More specifically, if you’re having fun you have easier access to your subconscious, and so will be more creative.

So why not try remembering how you liked to play as a child and introduce some of that into your day? If anyone asks you what you’re doing you can just tell them ‘purposeful play’!