Taking play seriously . . .

I’m a fan of Tony Schwartz’s posts on the HBR.  Schwartz is the CEO of The Energy Project and always has good things to say about how we work.  I’m also a big fan of “how” – the often neglected but critical aspect of all that we do.

In Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By  http://bit.ly/tR7rAV Schwartz takes on four myths that are well worth busting up.  Given my procivities toward creativity and play I am interested in busting open Myth #3: Creativity is genetically inherited, and it’s impossible to teach.

In a global economy characterized by unprecedented competitiveness and constant change, nearly every CEO hungers for ways to drive more innovation. Unfortunately, most CEOs don’t think of themselves as creative, and they share with the rest of us a deeply ingrained belief that creativity is mostly inborn and magical.

Ironically, researchers have developed a surprising degree of consensus about the stages of creativity and how to approach them. Our educational system and most company cultures favor reward the rational, analytic, deductive left hemisphere thinking. We pay scant attention to intentionally cultivating the more visual, intuitive, big picture capacities of the right hemisphere.

As it turns out, the creative process moves back and forth between left and right hemisphere dominance. Creativity is actually about using the whole brain more flexibly. This process unfolds in a far more systematic — and teachable — way than we ordinarily imagine. People can quickly learn to access the hemisphere of the brain that serves them best at each stage of the creative process — and to generate truly original ideas.

I don’t want to quibble with the important things that Schwartz has to say. . . and I think there is more to give readers about our human capacity to create and how to develop that capacity.  Although it might involve “using the whole brain more flexibly” there are some easy-to-teach ways to develop our innate creative capacity.  Readers of this blog probably know what comes next . . .  yes and . . . improvisation is the way!

We are creative beings. As babies we acquired language through creative, improvisational imitation. Adults spoke to us before we “understood” language and we responded with our baby babblings and one day we became speakers.  That activity of being related to “a head taller” than we are continues to be how we grow and develop throughout our lives.  When we relate to each other as “creative” we get back in touch with our innate creativity.  Although there is no human being who is “not creative”, many of us think that about ourselves and need an environment and support to flex and develop our creative muscles.

As a teacher and coach I have found that playing improv games brings out the creative capacity of the group — whether we are passing around improvised balls of different weight, size and color, telling a collective story one word at a time, or creating “yes and” scenes between two people — we can create an environment to teach/remind people just how creative we all are.  Sadly in our culture we often lose touch with our playful selves in the service of “growing up” and becoming “serious”.

There is no doubt in my experience — play is the means by which we experience our wonderous capacity to create.

I also share Schwartz’s desire to bust up Myth #4: The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours:

. . . human beings are designed to pulse intermittently between spending and renewing energy. Great performers — and enlightened leaders — recognize that it’s not the number of hours people work that determines the value they create, but rather the energy they bring to whatever hours they work.

Rather than systematically burning down our reservoir of energy as the day wears on, as most of us do, intermittent renewal makes it possible to keep our energy steady all day long. Strategically alternating periods of intense focus with intermittent renewal, at least every 90 minutes, makes it possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably.

“Intermittent renewal” … hmm what could be better than a play break at the office?

Imagine the level of innovation and creativity that could be produced if we took play seriously?!