The Secret to Innovation?
If you were to pick one word that you want to be in 2021, what would it be?
My word is PLAY. I want to bring play to everything I do. I want to be play. I want to share how it feels to be play with other people. I want to let go of taking everything so seriously and approach everything in my life with lightness and creativity. I want to let go of the need to be right and dig deeper into being curious.
Stuart Brown, MD and founder of the National Institute for Play defines the properties of play as:
- apparently purposeless
- inherent attraction
- freedom from time
- diminished consciousness of self
- improvisational potential
What does this all mean? Ultimately, when we play, we get in the zone. We let go of outcomes and purpose and we improvise, lose our sense of self and time and want to keep going because it brings us joy. And that’s a magical place, isn’t it? It’s where anything can happen, new ideas spark and our troubles melt away in the face of novel opportunities and solutions.
Now, a lot of people who haven’t played much as adults might say “that’s all good and well, but I don’t have time for play.” What I learned this past year is that bringing play back into my life made decision-making easier, brought more joy into mundane activities and greater harmony to my family life.
That’s because I realized that you can do anything with a playful approach. Even situations that are important and seem very serious can be lightened or resolved with play.
Creativity doesn’t sparkle and shimmer when you’re taking yourself terribly seriously. In fact, being serious tends to go along with the need to be right, and when you’re married to being or getting things right, it can be awfully hard to see things from different perspectives. I know because I’ve made this mistake so many times. When I get sucked into the vortex of unforeseen conflict or challenges, I’ve had a tendency to take a serious approach to resolving the issue. What usually happens in those moments is that I get stuck in drama, negative emotions and a view that things are hopeless or broken. My commitment for this year is to break this pattern, to choose the playful path when I see myself beginning to edge toward Drama Drive.
One anecdote from Brown’s book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul that really stuck with me describes how Andrew Grove and Gordon Moore used imaginative play to turn Intel around when their Japanese competitors started making excellent and significantly less expensive memory chips for computers and the company needed to find a way to survive.
“One day, Grove and Moore discussed the quandary in Grove’s office. They realized that if they didn’t solve this problem, the board of directors would fire them and find people who could. They imagined the replacements who would take their jobs and wondered what these superexecutives might do. Grove looked at Moore and said, “Why don’t we do it ourselves?” They then “fired” themselves, walking out the office door and walking back in as the better and smarter executives who would replace them. Immediately, after acting out that little moment of make-believe, the answer was crystal clear: they had to take the company out of the memory chip business, no matter the cost or internal resistance. Eventually, they steered the company into designing and creating microprocessors, for which Intel is now famous.”
The reason I love that anecdote is because I can feel the moment of realization. They’re stuck with a big issue that they’re not sure how to resolve and by taking a light and playful approach, suddenly the solution becomes obvious. It reminds me of Byron Katie’s practice that she calls “The Work” — a meditation where you write down the issue you have and turn it around, finding that in pretty much every situation, you can see the opposite as just as true, and when you see that, it suddenly lightens the emotional load.
To bring this all back to my great passion, this is why I love storytelling so much. When you recognize that pretty much everything we believe is a story, then it’s easy to see how you can take the data points that make that story and change the angle without making it any less true. That’s why I teach what I teach — because playing with our stories gives us the power to shape reality and play with life.
So PLAY…that’s my word for the year. What’s yours?
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