Steven Johnson's TED talk on how play leads to the greatest inventions sheds light on the benefits of shifting our workplace culture and education to a state of play and exploration in order to keep creativity alive.
"Necessity is not always the mother of invention. The playful state of mind is fundamentally exploratory, seeking out new possibilities in the world around us. That seeking is why so many experiences that started with simple delight and amusement eventually led to profound breakthroughs."
If you are anything like me, you probably remember studying really hard for an exam to get the A you aimed for and then dumping that very information you memorized the day after the test by playing, partying or traveling. It's almost impossible to remember the entirety of the data you study and memorize in school. Instead, what you remember the most are your experiences, feelings and the times when you were exploring the unknown.
You remember these experiences because you are active, present and curious. These three traits are an excellent foundation for discovery that can lead to the next best invention and provide groundbreaking innovations that help society thrust forward.
Tom Blake is one of the most influential surfers of all time. He tells GrindTV that his first wave revealed truth. "Never before had I experienced such control and suitability," he said after he found an abandoned speedboat and experimented by bolting the keel to the bottom of his surfboard in 1935. A single fin surfboard became the dominant design for the next next 35 to 40 years.
To start creating a shift to engage play in workplace culture, change your mindset about play vs work, create space and focus on process and discovery. Here's how:
Play is Work vs Work then Play
The issue most work cultures face is that they separate out these two from each other and look at them as opposites. This polarizing effect causes people to fragment and lose connection with their exploratory, curious self.
Work should be play and play should be work. What is the opposite of work/play is boredom and resistance.
Looking at work and play as one in the same will allow you to realign yourself with what you do. If you don't feel they are in one the same, then perhaps you need to shift your industry or find something where work feels like play and vice versa.
If you lead a team that feels stagnant and lacks creativity, it is time to create space for them to engage their curiosity and have room for wonder and let go of any judgment around play.
Judging playfulness kills the mindset that allows for work and play to feel one in the same.
Creating Physical and Emotional Space for Discovery
When you create space it is important to not only create physical space and pull away from a desk or a small office and move into a large space interacting, playing and engaging, it's also important to create emotional space.
Emotional space is about allowing yourself and others to be wrong, to make mistakes and to discover what happens after the mistake. Creating emotional space is allowing room for wonder versus judgment, both within yourself and with others around you.
Be aware in each moment and see where you might be cornering yourself out of play because you are afraid of being wrong or making mistakes.
Letting Go of Goals and Focusing on Process
Another key factor is to let go of rigid goals and instead focus on process, on pushing boundaries and asking questions.
If creating a goal is the only thing that keeps your team accountable then perhaps you need to retrain the mindset to let go of the idea that they are showing up for the work, instead they are showing up for the discovery and using their unique perspective and skills to discover in their own way.
Individuals have various ways to discover and that is what makes each person unique. Reminding your team that they can leverage their unique way of looking at the world can help foster a discovery focused environment that will reach far greater benchmarks than the ones you can set today without discovery.