As children, our naturally inquisitive minds are designed for imaginative play. Depending on how you slice the data, children ask an average of 69 to 107 questions each hour they are engaged in conversation with adults. Our minds are little sponges, soaking up every piece of information we can get our hands-on. Then, instead of adding it to a spreadsheet or presentation, kids take new information and play. They see how that information might impact an alien from Mars who just landed in Barbie’s Dream House. Or they create elaborate stories about Santa riding on the back of a giant polar bear to bring presents to all of the kids on time.
It’s in this process of play that children learn how to make connections with our world, build relationships with others, and practice their creativity. In fact, play is critical to an abundance of core life skills, including cognitive function and emotion regulation.
Evidence suggests that this need for play doesn’t disappear as we age. Instead, engaging in play as adults is linked to higher rates of life satisfaction and well-being, higher rates of intrinsic motivation, and higher rates of ingenuity. In other words, the more we engage in play, the more we feel connected, engaged, and productive in our lives.
Tips for Using Imaginative Play for Innovation and Creativity
Encourage Scheduled Time for Play at Work
If you take a stroll through Google’s East Coast Headquarters, you may find yourself drawn to the Lego Play Station or lured into a scavenger hunt taking place down the hall. But Google doesn’t stop at simply supplying its employees with these smaller opportunities for play. No, in addition to the array of cafes and outdoor terraces, all Google engineers can use 20% of their work hours to work on any projects that excite their passion. Building an environment that encourages imaginative play has enabled Google to remain one of the most innovative companies to date.
As mentioned in one of our previous blogs, new perspectives are a great way to encourage creativity. To make this more playful, select perspectives that may seem more out-of-the-box for the situation at hand, such as the perspective of an astronaut or a zookeeper. Choosing a more creative perspective can help you break out of standard lines of thinking and open your eyes to other possibilities.
Mistakes are an inevitable and a common aspect of almost any project. Nobody is perfect. When mistakes happen, it’s important to see them as opportunities for growth and learning. When children make mistakes, their naturally creative tendencies enable them to turn the mistake into something more productive. For example, a child who colors outside the lines might draw an additional shape to add to the image. Consider ways you can see mistakes from a more playful perspective.
Participate in Creative Brainstorming
Brainstorming sessions are rife with creative potential. While brainstorming can sometimes feel monotonous, there are several ways to add play to your brainstorming sessions. One way is to build a brainstorming group with people from various departments, such as sales and engineering. This will add fresh perspectives to the problem-solving process. Another way is to lean into creative brainstorming prompts. One way to do this is through reverse brainstorming, where your team identifies potential problems before identifying any solutions.
Incorporate Play into Daily Activities
As is seen with Google, play is something that can be easily incorporated into everyday activities. While your company may not be looking to add a Lego Play Station anytime soon, there are small things you can do to encourage play. Incorporating fun check-in questions during meetings, creating a show and tell board, or doing a company-wide trivia game are all ways to quickly integrate play at your company.
Imaginative play doesn’t have to be as elaborate as Google’s approach to play has become. However, businesses with the highest employee retention and satisfaction rates often incorporate elements of play into their company culture. This leads to more creativity and more innovative employees.
How can you incorporate more play into your workday?