Most of the articles out there about play involve children and how important it is for their development. But what about adults? I guess adults don’t really have to incorporate play into their lives, but how boring would that be? According to Plato “Life must be lived as play”. And if you want to be more creative, play is absolutely essential.
As a creativity keynote speaker I always incorporate play into every speech or workshop I do, whether it’s improv or creativity games. Play helps you relax the neurons in the brain so you’re able to make connections your unrelaxed, analytical brain would never even think of. It usually takes a while to get people out of their comfort zones. I notice that many don’t want to look silly in front of their boss or co-workers. They don’t want to fail. That’s human nature. Creativity is all about trial and error, and that means you will fail a lot. It’s much easier to laugh at those failures and learn from them. After all, that’s what kids do when they play.
Watch how kids experiment through play, and how totally engrossed they can get in a game or putting together a toy castle. Kids can turn an empty box into a spaceship or use it as a counter in a store. They make up their own rules as they go along. And they fall down a lot. But they learn from it.
What I notice in doing creativity exercises and improv with a large group is that once the first person jumps in and starts having fun, others want to join in the fun. One person is always willing to jump off the cliff and take some risks. Once people in the audience see that the reward for taking risks is having fun, it makes it okay to try it. Kids play for some of the same reasons adults do – to relax, have fun, develop better social skills, express yourself, and strengthen imaginations. When I teach creativity it’s all for the end result of business and making money from it. But it all starts with play. Here is why these elements are important:
- Relax – Have you ever wondered why you tend to come up with your best ideas at the end of a long day, when your brain is exhausted? Or when you’re out having a couple of beers with your co-workers? It seems there is something to that. A psychology professor at Albion University did a study where he gave analytical and insight-based problems to over 400 students at different times of the day, and found that students did better on problems that involved insight when they were tired. Having a couple of drinks has been shown to increase creativity also for the same reason. Focusing and concentrating too much on a problem can block the creative process for problem solving. When you’re more relaxed you’re more likely to come up with ideas that aren’t the first ones that pop into your head. Those tend to be much more creative an unique.
- Have fun – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Being bored and boring is a bad combination. Life is full of stress, and stress is a creativity killer. It can actually make the brain smaller. A study on rats showed that the hippocampuses in their brains shrank after chronic exposure to stress. Play is a great way to relieve stress. A recent study conducted at the neurology department at Ohio State University by assistant professor David Beversdorf, proved that student’s stress levels affected tests that were creativity based. According to researcher Sergio Pellis, free play in children “changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of the brain”. This is critical for problem solving. And problem solving is a big part of creativity.
- Develop better social skills – Anyone who’s played an improv game knows it’s mostly a team sport. If you want to get better at brainstorming, improv is a great way to bounce ideas off of each other. It teaches you how to work together to solve problems. You can’t spend your time worrying about what you’re going to say next because you have no idea which direction the conversation will go in. It allows you to just roll with whatever happens and sometimes the most creative things come out of the unexpected. It’s an element of comedy and an element of creativity.
- Express yourself – Many great ideas never see the light of day in business meetings because many people won’t speak up for fear that others won’t like their ideas or will think they are stupid. And sometimes they are right. When those ideas get shot down quickly in a meeting, those same people are hesitant to shout out any more ideas. When you are in the middle of a playful improv game that’s less likely to happen since everyone is shouting out stupid, silly answers. Play helps people express themselves better because it’s all in good fun, and there are no wrong answers. I purposely want people to be as silly and outrageous as possible. The more outrageous the better.
- Strengthen imaginations – Reality sucks sometimes. A lot of times. It seems like a never ending cycle of paying bills, pleasing the boss, pleasing clients, traffic, waiting in lines, waiting on hold on the phone, and just getting through the day. But in your imagination you can be anywhere and anyone you want to be. A rock star. An astronaut. On a deserted island. Albert Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” Without imagination we would have no inventions. Imagination has allowed us to advance as a society and have a better life. Escaping reality is very good for relieving stress and vital for creativity.
So, the next time you want to feel more creative and generate some new ideas, add a little play to your life.