Many technologists take innovation as a serious business. They push themselves to design more and more advanced solutions, especially in this climate of innovation and the ‘ideas boom’ encouraged by the Turnbull government. Too often we forget that we are at our most creative when we are having fun. As Carl Jung said, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”
Firstly, we need to recognise that play is not only about fun, it has a serious side.
Biologists say that animals play in order to train for the unexpected. For instance, a kitten may never have interacted with a huge, hungry predator, but they still seek our places to hide during play. Similarly, play fighting with your siblings and friends helps develop your skills for the real world.
In the same way, your business may not be facing a crisis yet, but you still need to prepare for the future. Even if your competition is still some way behind you, your systems are secure and running well, and no disasters are interrupting your supply chain or production, you need to be prepared. You cannot afford to wait for these things to come true; you need to play.
There are numerous ways in which play can be brought into an innovation strategy. I often suggest creative games as part of an ideation workshop in order to get people in a more relaxed, and ingenious mood. Well-known parlor games such as charades may work well, or you could try some challenging modern games such as Fluxx. The game should not be overly competitive, as the aim is to inspire enthusiasm and curiosity, not a cut-throat struggle to be the best. Bringing all your people together, both as individuals and collaborators, increases empathy and mutuality. Even if it’s just for half an hour at the beginning of a workshop, collaboration is important to help overcome barriers of shyness and reticence for some participants. At the same time, play can take the edges off some of the tensions that emerge in our social hierarchies. For instance, the Managing Director may be in charge in the office, but may well be less agile, witty, and accomplished when trying to mime ‘Twelve Angry Men’ in under a minute.
Over time you can evolve your play to reflect current business situation. Ask your teams: What if we had zero customers, what would our marketing strategy look like? What if we gave the product away for free, how could we make money? If we priced our service 100 times more expensively than today, what would it need to look like to succeed? What if we moved our headquarters to Peru? The point is not practicality–for now–but to spark new ideas that otherwise wouldn’t emerge. These new ideas are the first steps to progress, to see old data, and to be opened to data driven possibilities they may derive.
Play can take your current skills–in planning, design and development–to a new level of mastery. Play can open your eyes from simply being interested in your business to being astonished at the range of possibilities. Play channels your strength and commitment and produces ingenuity and profound innovation.
And don’t forget, it’s fun too.