Doing What Comes Naturally

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. Plato

Years ago when I was a teacher, I found that even my second graders sometimes got too serious. Once when they were all intense and upset about some test, I created the Esnesnon Club (nonsense spelled backward) and they were all members.  The rule was to create nonsense ideas that engaged all members.  Sometimes, what happened was brilliant, other times, just pure corn.  The Esnesnon Club continued throughout the year. Always though it brought fresh air into the room and lightened things up. 

Later when I founded the Learning Exchange, (1972) play was a healthy part of the process.  We had a large recycle department that stocked left overs and scraps from businesses throughout the city.  We would have contests to see who could think of the most uses for these items.  These items became reusable wealth and became a healthy part of the LX budget each year.  One of the things the LX spawned was an Invention's workshop for teachers and principals. Teams were asked to select ten to 15 items out of a barrel of goodies and then they were asked to invent something with them.  Non just anything, but a "timer that would run for exactly three minutes then send a signal to send a rubber ducky down stream"; or "a vehicle that would run on its own power for 90 seconds then emit an odor that would trigger something else to happen". Teams had to design, build, market, and sell their ideas.  We often had adults ... serious adults rolling on the floor with laughter.  There was a freedom in the room,  unencumbered moments where people became themselves ... curious, collaborative, playful, and active.  These were the years before anyone thought about the value of collaboration. But here they were seeing how different minds could see and solve different parts of the problems.  In the debrief there was always astonishment about how they all participated and because of that, created success.  In a three-hour module these adults who worked side by side each day - who counted on each other - got to know each other better than all the hours they had spent working, worrying about students and parents, playing politics, and acting adult. 

This Inventions Module carried over into our MG Taylor  process.  Fast Company featured one of our clients at play.  Once during a workshop with high level execs at NASA, I walked by a team sitting on the floor and one of the members called out, "Gail, don't you wish you were still working with young children?" I looked at him and said, "Jerry, all minds are young at play. It doesn't get better than this." We focused on processes where the rules were not known... we created frameworks with just enough armature so that many of the rules got put in place on the spot, different for each team, but always collaborative, born from the ground up and a moment in time.  Many, many of these sessions have resulted in tremendous insights and new ways of solving pressing problems.  Some years later, the movie, Apollo 13 revealed  how important  play/invention/design/imagination was to saving lives. 

A couple of weeks ago, Todd introduced me to The National Institute for Play! Imagine! This site is not for and about children. It is about play for all ages, all species.  It is an incredible resource! Over the last few years, a group of us (MGT, Tomorrow Makers, Architectz of Group Genius, and TVW) have been introducing the concepts of creativity, design, collaboration, and play to participants at World Economic Forum and other conferences. The WorkSpace brings fresh play, design and creativity to members each year through both its Annual and regional meetings. These concepts are working their way into our culture not just as words but as a way of working.  I claim that if we have done nothing else, these concepts embedded in a way of working will change the world for the better. They will enable us to see the world differently, to become more natural, more human, more fun! Now, if we can just convince the schools that "no child left behind" is not about constant testing of facts, but more about play and collaboration! Let's let kids return to doing what comes naturally ... playing, learning, designing, collaborating... creating new worlds of wonder and delight.