Play isn’t just kid’s stuff

A teacher once said to me: “If children only did what their parents told them to do, the human race would have died out long ago.”

At the time, I was studying the nature of play itself. What do children do so differently from their parents? They play. But how does it work? What happens when the freedom to play is denied? How could we create the conditions for it to flourish?

I realised that our survival depends upon exploring the unknown, challenging the status quo and finding new solutions to old problems, and that without play, none of these things happen easily.

Play isn’t just kid’s stuff. Grown ups need to play just as much. As many of us grow up and forget how to play, the world becomes a lot more rigid and a little more grey. Our right brain, source of dazzling invention and magical thinking, becomes dormant.

This is no good, particularly when we are interested in being innovators. To access our creativity, explore new possibilities and feel fully, vibrantly alive, we have to throw away the old rules and allow ourselves to play. When we do, new ideas bubble up, all by themselves.

The good news is that we are already experts in play, and therefore in innovation. We spent at least 12 years in a master class, didn’t we? If you are reading this, I know that you were once 7 years old. Climbing trees, making up stories and building obstacle courses in the living room sometimes feel like ancient history but that’s only lack of practice.

My work – my play – is all about accessing that state of aliveness, imaginative brilliance and innovative thinking again, and then applying it to life. It’s only practising what we already know.

Tiu de Haan

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