Trigger Innovation and Creativity through Play

When was the last time you played? As we grow older, we are told to be serious, professional and composed, and that playing is an activity meant only for children. Psychologically, this raises a few concerns because human beings, and animals, are born and designed to play. It is in our nature to explore the world in different ways and have fun with it.

January 2020

Playing can provide a safe and alternative environment for business leaders to think of different ideas, develop new capabilities and practice skills to solve problems or come up with better strategies. Playful people have the capacity to become great innovators, as innovation is all about coming up with solutions that are new and useful. In this Hot Topic, we will discover why and how play can trigger creativity and innovation within individuals. We hope this month’s Hot Topic will help you see the value in play, and trigger ways to bring it back into your personal life and your organisation.

Play: more than just fun

Humans are perhaps one of the only species of animals that are considered lifelong players. Some researchers suggest that playing has been one of the key elements that led our development as a species. This is primarily because we are the only species with capacity for imagining and creating worlds or concepts that don’t exist.

Promoting play in the workplace can be a great strategy to develop new ideas and projects within the organisation. For this to emerge, business leaders need to develop the right environment, as play will only present itself when individuals feel safe and comfortable to engage with it. This means play can also be a sign of employee wellbeing. Recent research suggests that play also has an impact on physical development, cognitive development, social development and how to prepare for the unexpected. This allows individuals to foster behaviours such as emotional intelligence, resilience, curiosity, collaboration and adaptation, all of which are necessary to increase and develop an individual’s creativity and potential for innovation. Five great reasons to increase play in the workplace!

Five ways you can use play to promote leadership

There are five defining features of play:

1. Play is fun and engaging.
2. Play is the opposite of “serious” behaviour.
3. Play is a generator of novelty.
4. Play is an indicator of wellbeing.
5. Play is timeless.

Considering these features, researchers have found that there are many ways to play. Each type of play develops different skills for individuals. The following table contains a few types of play which promote leadership and creative behaviours.

The Joker Loves nonsense, silly sounds, and being foolish. They are drawn to playing practical jokes and joke telling and frequently connect with others through their jokes. Jokers love to make others laugh to brighten up environments.
The Kinaesthete Loves to engage in physical movement. Play can range from clearing land to playing football. It doesn’t have to be competitive.
The Explorer Exploration is the tool for provoking imagination and fostering creativity. Exploring can be about literally traveling to new places, or daydreaming. Exploration can also be intellectual through research of new subjects and topics. This play mode is great for off-site or on-site research.
The Competitor Loves specific rules and goals. Competitors want to know how to win and who won. The drive to be number one is evident. It can be in team sports or in solo endeavours. They love scorekeeping and keeping track of progress. The Competitor can be easily recognised in both business and social settings.
The Director Enjoys planning and executing plans. Directors are frequently the social director on your team — coordinating the birthday parties or the group outings. They can also be a manipulator, but if they are heading up your volunteer recruitment, that’s not a bad thing.
The Collector Loves to hunt for and collect the best, the most, and the most interesting objects or experiences. Collectors can play alone or as part of a social team or club, so long as they have a similar interest.
The Artist/Creator Loves to make things. They are the people who have craft rooms, workshops, or studios – and when there is no extra space, their living room or kitchen table is overflowing with treasures and supplies. Artists are great prototypers.
The Storyteller Storytellers can make themselves part of any story. They find joy not only in telling stories but also in reading books and watching movies. They love metaphor and symbolism and use them to make sense of the world. Storytellers are unique in that they can bring play to almost any activity or event.



Referenced techniques



Brainstorming is one of the best-known techniques available for creative problem-solving. This concept describes the technique and explores its benefits and weaknesses. It goes on to set out procedures for organising effective brainstorming sessions and offers some examples of brainstorming drawn from past experiences of renowned organisations.



Good leaders are continually working on, and studying to improve, their leadership skills. This technique explores what makes a good leader and covers the characteristics of good organisational leadership.


Business Innovation

The concept explores innovation and how it can create and capture value for organisations. It will provide professionals with a basic understanding business innovation.

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