Does this mean that we can all regress into childhood and that making mistakes or behaving foolishly does not matter? Of course not. What we mean in this context is that a certain degree of chaos, learning from mistakes and not playing by the rules is acceptable. But why ‘play’ and not ‘explore’? Adult creativity is closer to childhood play than you might think and also ‘exploration’ still uses our adult rules with built in mindsets.
Play has several important characteristics which I will explore further.
We learn when we play as children, in fact this accounts for most of our early learning. Can you remember some of those early lessons before you went to primary school? Play acts as a learning laboratory for trying out different internal models on an external world. This is not dissimilar to our traditional brainstorming sessions.
Is play a practical task or imagination? A child that pretends his piece of cardboard is a knight’s sword is giving a simple piece of cardboard a set of magical qualities that are potentially limitless. As adults we use metaphor in much the same way.
Play also helps our sense of independence, and shows that we do not have to be compliant. This is an essential part of basic mental health. We need to have our own world and not be simply a part of someone else’s.
Play provides a protected area for our dreams. Once in the play state we do not say ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘don’t be silly’. Does this not remind you of brainstorming and other techniques? When you are free of the rules you are playing!!
Play provides a way of managing tensions between what is and what can be. Such tension can be temporarily reduced by imagining ways of closing the gap. A classical case of this is the technique of Visualisation.
Play is often accompanied by a particular state of mind. Just as a child can become lost in a game, so adults can become lost in a problem solving state once they have left their preconceptions behind.
There are emotional boundaries for children when play. The feelings conjured up by making imagination real must be containable. The same feelings exist when undertaking adult creative workshops and thus we can not play if we feel threatened.
As children, play is our main method of making both friends and enemies. Many suggest that it is only during play that true communication is possible because that is the only time that we share our innermost feelings. Those who have taken part in worthwhile group sessions will relate to the feelings of closeness that exist.
Given that shared culture, values, myths, metaphors, visions and more are the basis of many of our social groupings both inside and outside the workplace, why do we not play more often?