play and creativity Do you wake up every morning on autopilot, dreading the monotony of the day ahead? Do you play it safe, pumping out “sufficient” solutions to problems that are presented to you? Are you a creative person, but drawing a blank on new ideas?

If this sounds like you, do not be troubled! There is a simple suggestion that at first may seem absurd, but has the potential to raise morale in the workplace and get everyone to start thinking on a more creative level: PLAY.

Recall your last brainstorming session. How did that go? Recently, my team held a brainstorming session about what to write about on one of our blogs. The room fell silent. Then typical responses starting trickling in: “Responsive web design,” “The importance of twitter handles,” “Why your website stinks.”  Awesome stuff, right?

I suggested that we just say whatever comes to mind instead of playing it safe, and the following were among the many suggestions that came gushing out :

  • Why I love coaching little league
  • Poison dart frogs
  • Why do I buy clothes that I never end up wearing?
  • I live and breathe “Breaking Bad”
  • Miley Cyrus

At first glance, it seems like a bunch of dreck. But we had fun. We even giggled! We were able to speak our minds without fear of being judged. (Miley Cyrus. Really?!) This is what play is all about. Our perceived nonsensical responses and burst of creativity led to some pretty cool, useful, blog post possibilities:

  • If Internet Strategy concepts were characters from the Walking Dead
  • Why Your Website Should Take a Page from Miley Cyrus and Get Naked
  • I’m a man and I’m Not Ashamed to Use Pinterest (heck yes!)

Those are some sweet blog posts. How on earth would we have come up with interesting ideas like these without letting loose? Answer: we probably wouldn’t have.

Today’s world is full of consequences, but the act of play gives people the opportunity to experiment without consequence.  You are more likely to generate ideas when there is no risk involved. Reframing the core of a problem into something playful makes for an environment where creativity can thrive.

Our playful brainstorming session was a riff on Improvisational Theater or “improv.” Improv is one of the best ways to introduce play into the workplace to help foster creativity. It is more of an art form than anything, but even short exposures to it have significant results.

Think back to the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” It is known as “The show where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” Yup. Drew Carey gets it. The act of improv encourages a positive mindset and thrives when consequences are minimized. More importantly, improv trains its participants to make bold choices and to shut down their inner critic, fostering creative growth. Ryan Stiles, eat your heart out.

In order for these techniques to not spiral out of control, there must be certain guidelines put in place. Play is not anarchy. Even children have some sort of rules when they play. Rules to set the structure and guide the play towards a goal. There must also be rules on when to play. The idea isn’t to bust out an improv routine during your boss’s speech at the next company meeting. Try introducing improv into your next brainstorm session or use it during times when you’re in a creative rut, and see how the ideas start flowing.

Remember, you can’t be afraid to fail, because there IS no failure when you play.

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