The Episode at a Glance

  • Why have an episode on playfulness?
  • What a waste of time! Adults are too busy to play. Right?
  • In practice, however, if we are too busy trying to crack a problem head on because we don’t have time for seeming idleness we can spend much longer than if we were to take the time to play and creatively explore whatever is in front of us.

Listen to what John Cleese had to say on the matter in his book Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide:

“Most adults […] find it hard to be playful — no doubt because they have to take care of all the responsibilities that come with an adult’s life. Creative adults, however, have not forgotten how to play.” – John Cleese

Note: Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide is available on Amazon, the Book Depository and hopefully your local bookstore and library.

Listen to the Episode

Transcript

My name is Tom O’Leary and this is the Time Academy podcast. Today we are talking about Play and Creativity.

You might be thinking – should we even be talking about this?

Should adults really play?

Surely, and I quote here from a sage in ages past:

“Play, like idleness, is not only wasted time, but is also a process leading to the neglect of study and work for adults.”

Now, that sort of encapsulated the view of adult play until recently. It was play versus study and work. You can have one or the other but not both.

Now thankfully this is beginning to change.

In fact, despite centuries of seriousness, study after study in recent years has shown the positive benefits of adult play including in work environments. For example, adult play has been shown to lead to greater creativity, more innovation, better communication and stress-reduction. Not bad for starters.

To my mind, the most elegant case for play in the life of creative adults is the short book by John Cleese entitled “Creativity”. It takes less than an hour to read – is an absolute pleasure – and in the book Cleese puts play centre stage arguing, and I quote:

“Most adults […] find it hard to be playful — no doubt because they have to take care of all the responsibilities that come with an adult’s life. Creative adults, however, have not forgotten how to play.”

And yet, don’t we all need to be creative in some part of our lives?

It may be in how to deal with your boss, a potential client, when developing a new strategy, expanding your service offering, even in dealing with your children or parents. Simply put, if we want to achieve more creative outcomes in any part of our lives we need to be able to tap into our unconscious and play is one gateway.

For example, I use Lego to brainstorm. I’ve been playing with it since childhood – I just take a few bricks and something gets built. It is hard to explain particularly on a podcast – it can almost feel like an out of body experience at times in that the brain is just an onlooker asking Who built that?

So, when I was thinking about this episode and was feeling a little stuck on where exactly to focus – because there is truly so much in this area – it felt right to play it out.

So I reached over to the small box of Lego that is always on my desk, cleared the green base plate and let my fingers do the walking. They picked up some small bricks in the form of a small short wall and put them down in the middle of the plate and my mind immediately understood – you are creating hurdles for yourself – but I let the fingers do their thing. So they built another hurdle and another, a finish line and a number of spectators.

Once it was complete – and the whole process took less than 2 minutes – I understood that all I had to do was walk around the hurdles – that I didn’t in fact have to jump over them. The message was that I was making this too difficult. I didn’t have to cover everything – I just had to get to the finish line.

And, aside from bringing fun and joy to our days, that really is possibly the key benefit of play in our lives – creative non-linear thinking!

We either see that we have imagined the problem so we can walk around it or we find creative ways of looking at it from different perspectives and seeing easier ways of dissolving it.

Play also has certain strange benefits from a time perspective and when we are truly playing we lose that external sense of clock time, ticking and ticking away.

Past, present and future can merge into one as we create parallel worlds in which everything is possible. There are no limits beyond what we can imagine or the rules we impose on a game. This sense of stepping outside of quote unquote reality is magically creative.

It allows us to get away from battling to subdue whatever problem we have – break the door down so to speak. We might in fact realise that the house we’re trying to enter through the door has no windows, walls or roof and yet we still keep banging on the door. If we are too busy trying to crack a problem head on because we don’t have time for seeming idleness we can spend much longer than if we were to take the time to play and creatively explore whatever is in front of us.

Sometimes it even helps to redesign decision-making processes so that we’re not faced with those urgent decisions – this gives the sub-conscious time to work on the problem – to play with it so to speak and see what comes out.

So, as you go about your day, I would invite you to ask yourself:

What might benefit from being seen more playfully?

Thanks for listening to the Time Academy podcast. I hope this has offered you a slightly different perspective. If you find it helpful please share! I’d also love to get your feedback and hear your stories so please feel free to email me.