Habits to Spark Creative Genius

Amuse Yourself: Play with Possibilities

Every day offers a gift of play.

By Jeannine McGlade & Andrew Pek | Posted 9/1/10 | Updated 10/5/20

Within our daily lives we are constantly (and usually unconsciously) provided with opportunities to play and amuse ourselves with possibilities. No matter whether you are in your car driving to work or you are attending a mundane social event, an invitation to play and be creative awaits you.

Every day is a reminder to awaken our creative genius. Every day offers a gift of play. So long as we are willing to jump in and become present in opening up and examining the contents of this gift, we will know that a surprise awaits us. The more we integrate play into our daily lives, the more we will increase our chances for creative success and put ourselves in a relaxed state where all things seem possible. So why not just jump in and play?

Play, Stimulation, and Creativity

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with objects it loves." — Carl Jung, Swiss Psychiatrist

The results of applying your creativity to generate a big idea can be very serious. However, the process you use doesn't need to be. You can still get results if you inject play into the process to spark creative ideas in action.

Jesse Posa, an actor and Frank Sinatra impersonator, is the consummate player when it comes to lifting the spirits and energy of others. Full of great energy, passion, and mirth, Jesse views his world as a stage on which to perform and entertain. Whether you are at the golf links or having an important conversation about his business, he finds a way to entertain you and make the best use of his surroundings. Every moment you spend with Jesse is an invitation to have fun, think big, and let your imagination run free. "When I conduct a performance," Posa says, "there's got to be juices flowing to help me stimulate and infuse others with energy. It's a give-and-take with the audience — I feed off their energy, they feed off mine. When they are demonstrative or appreciative of what I am doing, then I am stimulated. I may not always get that from the full audience so I deliberately play to those who I can engage in most and strive to make a connection that eventually pleases the entire audience." Jesse's way of being is playfulness, and the lens through which he views the world is oriented toward possibilities.

When we are in play mode we entertain and express ourselves. We bring energy into the room and create ripe conditions where literally anything is possible and anything might happen. Spontaneity and serendipity are abundant when we are in a playful state of mind — it begins in our thoughts and follows through in our feelings and, consequently, our actions. When we play, we are free from constraint. Many people we've spoken to in our workshops say that when they play and act more playfully they are most like themselves. "When I perform and play before an audience," says Posa, "I bring my full self into public view and feel authentic."

"You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." — Plato, Classical Greek Philosopher

Though Einstein is most often associated with big, important, heady ideas and formulas, he had a reputation for being a practical joker, having fun, and engaging in some type of physical activity daily, such as riding a bike, in order to spark his imagination. Engaging in playful activity helps geniuses like Einstein get charged up (No wonder his hair looked like it did!) and prepared to create. After many years of teaching others to work together more collaboratively, solve problems, and be more innovative, we have found that injecting play will not only create more fun, but it will also stimulate and ready the senses for creative action.

Play is serious business. We believe that when people have a chance to unwind and let loose, their natural endorphins kick in and put them in the proper physical and mental state to think and act creatively. We often start off our seminars with some playful activity that simply loosens people up both physically and mentally in order to get them engaged and focused on the here and now. Creative genius must have a steady diet of fun, expression, and imaginative spirit.

Just think back to the times when you've seen a speaker use relevant humor (play) to begin her presentation. How did that make you feel? Assuming it was actually funny and relevant, chances are you laughed and felt relaxed and more engaged. A playful speaker can connect with her audience and give them permission to be playful and open to spark moments as well as herself. When the audience is in this state of engagement and play, they are more open to learning, more open to ideas, more open to possibilities, and more open to spark moments. So the next time you are giving a presentation, think about how you might incorporate some play into it.

What Is Play?

"The most potent muse of all is out inner child." —Stephen Nachmanovitch, American Musician and Educator

The difficulty of embracing play as a stimulant and fostering it as a habit stems from the fact that we have too narrowly defined the word "play." When it comes to organizations, especially, few people would consider themselves playful or value play as a legitimate way to spur business results. But play doesn't have to be streamers and balloons; play may be as simple as getting someone to laugh or acting out a process that on paper is hard to conceptualize.

Play has always been an important way for humans to express ourselves, unwind, and create. Since the beginning, we have used some form of play to act out our stories, experiences, and rituals. From art on caves to the epic Olympic games of Greece, play is part of who we are and how we like to express ourselves. And from an evolutionary standpoint, research shows that if we frequently play, our cerebellum (also referred to as the "little brain," a region of the brain that plays an important role in the integration of sensory perception and motor output) will increase in size.

Whether we pursue it through dance, theater, sport, or using Koosh balls in a meeting, play is an essential part of human nature and can help us to conceptualize, experiment, manipulate, and build something more effectively. At one point in the 1800s, psychologists declared that play was driven by surplus energy and was nothing more than aimless expenditure of energy that would need to be managed in order to live a disciplined and productive life. Yikes! No wonder many still have the attitude that play is surplus and something reserved exclusively for off-time and recreational activity. Of course, we couldn't disagree more!

Play is a form of recreation that spurs a feeling of freshness or something new. The word "creation" means to produce, engender, or cause something. The Latin origin of the word "create" is creare, which means to grow. Recreation, then, is a process of perpetually growing or reinventing ourselves in order to produce that new, fresh perspective.

The more we recreate, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more we renew and bring freshness to our everyday existence. Therefore, play is a recreation activity that helps us to both grow and stay fresh. Play is a refreshing way to stimulate our energy and enliven our creative sprits in order to grow and produce new things. It is spontaneous and unconventional. So why wouldn't organizations and the people in them be interested in creating something that is new and that brings freshness, with the added benefits of more creative and relaxed states of mind? Is that not what innovation is all about — creating something that is new and fresh?

A man who completely exemplifies and embodies playfulness and living a recreation-filled life is Larry Barker. Throughout his life, Larry has played many varied roles. He received his PhD at twenty-three; became a full professor at twenty-nine; has written numerous articles, business books, and college textbooks; and has always kept himself active and stimulated through his playful spirit. Says Larry, "Early on in life I identified with the college professor, but at twenty-nine I had a eureka moment that there was more to life than just being a professor. I needed games to play to give me purpose, some fun new ways to approach the old and develop other skills, so I found new games to play. Music was always my primary game and I was able to bring that into the classroom."

He needed recreation, and he was able to bring his expression, his play, into the work that he did as a college professor. And, by the way, just because he had this eureka moment that there was more to life than being a college professor, don't think for a moment that he was disengaged and ineffective. In fact, it was just the opposite: his realization was exactly why he was effective. He was a brilliant professor, mentor, and example to his students of what it meant to be fully engaged in life and to love what you do and go after it — playfully.

These days you can find Larry mentoring others in business and life, writing and performing music, fishing, playing (and winning!) blackjack tournaments around the country, and writing books covering many business and human-interest topics — even meditation!

©2010 Jeannine McGlade & Andrew Pek. All rights reserved.

Habits to Spark Your Creative Genius

Jeannine McGladeJeannine McGlade and Andrew Pek are authors, speakers, trainers, and thought leaders in making innovation and creativity a habit. more