Join Stefan Mumaw for an in-depth discussion in this video The characteristics of play, part of Creativity: Generate Ideas in Greater Quantity and Quality.
No effective exploration of creative training is complete without a establishing the role that play occupies in the creative process. The common adult perception of play is that it's frivolous and childish, and has no place in serious work. Nothing could be father from the truth. Somewhere along the line, play was removed from corporate culture, but innovation and creativity is still in demand. The simple truth is that without play, creativity can never effectively be trained. Imagine during a sports team and only practicing drills.
No game simulation. You'd become adept at the practice skill. But without practicing in a game scenario, you'd never improve at the very thing those drills are meant to serve. Separating play from creativity is like practicing drills with no game simulation. Play provides the game atmosphere by providing the one aspect to create a problem solving that can't be emulated any other way, marginalized consequence. Let me show you this with an exercise. It's going to challenge you to use the everyday materials you have around you right now.
You're going to need a variety of supplies to do this task. This exercise is called, Fire in the Hole, and you're going to have nine minutes to complete it. The earliest descriptions of catapults described objects more akin to giant crossbows than the rock-hurling, wall-pummeling structures we imagine today. Regardless of their shape, their purpose was the same. Throw this thing way over there. A purpose we're going to use as the basis for a little creative play. Your task is to construct your own working, self-propelled tabletop catapult out of the various office supplies, arts and crafts materials, or generic household junk you have access to right now.
You're only going to have nine minutes to build it, and it has to propel an object the size of a marble at least 12 inches. Ready? Pause the movie now and go for it. So, how did you do? Did you succeed or did you fail? Did your first idea work, or did you have to scrap what you were building and start over? More importantly, was it fun? Odds are it was, because it was designed to be playful.
This exercise had virtually no real pressure. No one would get a bad grade, lose their job, or lose their client if you failed This simple fact allowed you to take risks you may not otherwise take. This is the fundamental effect of engaging in play, marginalized consequence. Because nothing was on the line, you were free to take chances. And learning to risk is a seminal part of creative problem solving. Removing play from the creative process removes that ability to marginalize consequence, and hinders any creative activity. Play creates a safe environment for failure, which is so feared that we typically will do anything we can to avoid it.
But failure is a natural component to creativity, as anything novel by its nature, is new and untested. If we're practicing creative problem solving, fact is, we're bound to fail from time to time. Learn the risk and experience smart failure. Smart failure is early failure. Taking risks early in your creative process, rather than late to minimize the risk of the overall success of the idea. This is vital to creative through creative growth, and something taught effectively through the structure of play.