In this 25 minute talk, Tim Brown discusses the importance of play and introduces us to games to spark creative ideas.
The principle of this is simple and often repeated. As children, we engage in exploratory play. Free from the reins of experience and social norms, we wish to discover how things work. The box that houses a toy often provides more opportunity for inventive games than the toy itself. Wearing the fireman’s uniform allows us to ‘try out’ the role of being a fireman. The average American first grader spends 50% of their play time in ‘construction activities’. These allow the child to quickly develop knowledge by doing.
For adults working in design, the building of low res prototypes is an evolved form of construction play. Making a simple plasticine model to demonstrate a piece of technology to a healthcare worker, forming a building design from clothes pegs; these are examples of simple ideas which can explain a concept much better than words alone.
Adults who wish to be creative need a supportive environment in which to do so. There are numerous examples of companies encouraging ordered play. Pixar employees work in rooms designed as small caves or huts. Google are famous for their beach volleyball courts, pink flamingoes, games rooms and more. Tim Brown’s company, IDEO, use finger blasters. Brown emphasises that playfulness helps staff get to better positions, do their job more efficiently and enjoy the process.
There are two major barriers to creativity in adults. We are constantly editing, editing, editing. When given the 30 second circle test, in which participants have to adapt as many circles on the page into objects (e.g. Smily face, sun, football) as possible, few participants complete the task. We also have a fear of judgement. In another example of a Robert McKim exercise, Brown asks delegates to draw their neighbour. Most people apologise profusely, embarrassed by their efforts. Given a situation where they agree the worst artist has to buy a round of drinks, for example, the exercise becomes more agreeable as its participants have been allowed to set their own boundaries.
This leads to the rules of play. Play, we are told, isn’t anarchy. A good teacher will figure out ways to make the transition between stages of play and work. Nobody is exclusively playful or serious, despite many people’s feelings to the contrary. There are many ways of ‘playing’. In her book, ‘The Artist’s Way’, Julia Cameron advises such options as taking oneself on a weekly artists date, completing the ‘morning pages’ ( streams of writing before the internal censor kicks in) and activities such as baking. I’d highly recommend it to anybody wishing to become more creative.
Although Brown’s facts are well known, clearly the message hasn’t gotten through to many companies. As an aspiring writer, I can’t get enough of these talks. Not only are they an excellent tool for procrastination, but they continually remind me of the importance of creativity. If only I had some lego to play with..
I’ll leave you with a final story from Tim Brown. In 1966 Bob McKim conducted an experiment in which he invited a range of designers, engineers and other creatives to come to a house with a problem they needed to solve. Before and after giving them a dose of mescaline ( a psychadelic drug), he made them take the Purdue creativity test. Then they went away to work on their problems and many managed to come up with great new ideas. Could this be when silicon valley became so successful?
Be wrong as fast as you can. (Pixar’s in-house theory)