Thursday, March 3, 2011

Creativity through Serious Play

In my opinion, Creativity is the act of using one's Imagination to share your story, solve a problem, or otherwise express a Truth. Creativity is part of what makes us Human.  Sometimes it is taking someone else's thought, idea, creation, story, etc. and putting your own bent on it. Often an artist can learn a lot about themselves by "copying" another artist's work, be it music or a painting or sculpture, etc. As long as they admit it is a re-creation of someone else's work I don't have a problem with that at all!
One of my favorite YouTube videos is a Rant by a guy who used to play the cello and his struggles with Pachabel's Canon in D. In his rant he points out that the tune is used in just about every genre of music today! (
I have three younger sisters and when I was about 8, (and they were 7, 6 and 4) I was always complaining that they were "copying" me. Whether we were drawing pictures, molding play-doh, painting or telling a story they would try to draw, mold or paint the same thing and often would repeat after me like a parrot. If I drew a person holding a flower, they would also draw a person holding a flower; if I rolled my play-doh into a snake, they would also roll theirs like a snake; If I said, "I like pink." someone would invariably say 'I like pink.'; "Where are we going?" 'where are we going?'; "Stop copying me." 'stop copying me' etc. And what would my mom do? Nothing! She would say, "Imitation is a form of flattery." I used to hate that so much! Mostly, because as an 8 year old I didn't understand that they wanted to be just like me BECAUSE I was their Big Sister.

I caught this TedTalk recently:, Tim Brown's Talk on Serious Play. In his speech, he says "Fear is what keeps us from being creative." He is speaking to a room full of designers, and his thoughts are that when you have Trust and people are comfortable than they aren't afraid to show their creativity.  Playfulness is important because it helps us make creative solutions.  When adults come upon a new situation we stop and want to put it into a known category.  Whereas a child will come upon the same situation and think, "What is it? What can I do with it?!?!?!"
Brown states that there are three categories of play that children do that adults can learn from and reuse in the "Real World".
The first is Exploratory Play, where you go for quantity not quality, he gave audience members a sheet with 30 circles and gave them one minute to turn those circles into as many objects as they could. Quantity not quality. Don't worry about what they look like, just get it down, like Real Brainstorming!
The second is Building Play, thinking with your hands and using other objects to solve your problem. Did you know that the original design for the roller ball mouse came from a roll-on deodorant? In his company they keep "prototype carts" that are stocked with paper, play-doh, scissors, glue and other "preschool" supplies on hand!  He pointed out that those items are always available in preschool but that as kids go through our school systems, they are taken away.
The last type of play he mentions is Role-Playing, acting out scenarios to see the problems in a service.  He said that we already have hundreds of social scripts inside our heads from when we were small. He gives the example of a designer who went to a hospital emergency room and kept a video tape by his head the whole time so that the viewer would see everything a typical patient sees - the video has twenty minutes of the ceiling! Immediately upon watching the video the viewers can feel empathy and see problems that aren't necessarily obvious.
He adds that Adults, in our desire to be original [and creative] we actually self-edit ourselves out of fear.

I agree almost entirely with him. I think that anyone, regardless of their field of study, can learn a lot through serious play.  We can relearn how to be creative.

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