The second of my blogs on conditions for creativity will take a look at the importance of play in creativity. In my last blog I referred to the individual conditions for creativity which Jane Henry, one of the authors of the Open University Business School module, Creativity, Innovation and Change, claims are important as conditions for creativity.
Today I would like to focus on the second of these, Playfulness, which is defined here by Henry as
‘an ability to be flexible. It implies a mind that does not cling rigidly to a particular way of viewing the world but is able to switch perspectives, and tolerates or enjoys the ambiguity in understanding inherent in holding several, perhaps conflicting, viewpoints’
A recent report showed that personal playfulness has a positive influence on employee creativity, organizational playfulness climate, and organizational innovation.
Interestingly also, playfulness has been shown to be ‘associated with better academic performance (i.e., better grades in an exam). Also, students who described themselves as playful were more likely to do the extra reading that went beyond what was needed to pass the exam. This can be seen as first evidence of a positive relation between playfulness in adults and academic achievement.’
In the MBA module Creativity, Innovation and Change in book 2, there is a set of enablers for creativity presented, and one of these is ‘value play’. There are termed the precepts of creativity and roughly based upon both James Adams’s classic book Conceptual Blockbusting (4th edition 2001) and a discussion by Charles Handy (1991) on the three conditions for creativity, Curiosity, Forgiveness and Love, discussed brieflyin a previous blog here
When we play we bring our imagination to the fore and let all sorts of possibilities take place. Look at young children when they play with cardboard boxes and the range of ‘things’ that this can become; a train, a car, a house for example. Somehow as we grow up we often lose this ability and start to value a logical, rational way of working. this can prohibit thinking outside the box and challenging assumptions. One of my all time favourite songs by Supertramp seems to sum this up really well – see here for the video
A good example of the value of play can be seen when creative techniques are used well in creative problem solving. I recently facilitated a process at a residential seminar. The work on a complex problem was progressing slowly when I introduced the possibility of using finger painting to bring an element of play into the process. There were, as always some cynical comments and some resistance, however, for the most part it was this play activity that led directly to an important reframing of the problem, which was then seen from a different perspective and it was this that unlooked the possibilities for resolution.
If nothing else play suspends the critic and allows ideas to incubate, which is powerful in itself in the creative process.
So how can play be introduced in a way which is acceptable to organisations? Google of course is well known for its creative climate – take a look at this to see the elements of play in the organisation
As a leader what can you do to introduce elements of play into your organisation?
Here are some of my ideas for actions which can be taken.
- Encourage people to be more flexible by developing processes that enable this to happen.
- Allow people to take risks and use mistakes as learning opportunities
- Create spaces in your organisation where people can be looser and which encourage creative thinking
- Encourage people to share and to have fun when sharing and meeting together
- Reward ideas and creative thinking –and this does not have to be financial reward
- Develop a climate around tolerance of others
Perhaps you can add to this list of actions for leaders?
More importantly how will you be more playful in your life? and what will be the impact of this?
Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley.