It’s not just child’s play…

We all know the saying “All work and no play…” but why should work not involve play? 

“Play”, as frivolous and childish as it sounds, can in fact be a driver of innovation. As Steven Johnson says in his book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, “play is often about breaking rules and experimenting with new conventions”. Rule-breaking and experimentation are concepts associated with radical innovation, with doing or making something different and there’s nothing frivolous about that. 

Going back to the 8th and 9th Century in Baghdad there was a building called the House of Wisdom. A library and place of study, the House of Wisdom has also been described in modern day terms as a “think tank, translation bureau and maker lab”. It was here that mathematicians the Banu Musa Brothers published The Book of Ingenious Devices, in which are illustrated numerous automata and the earliest known musical instrument. The ideas behind these inventions, which were essentially toys and made for entertainment purposes, went on to lead to transformative things such as mechanisation and industrialisation.

However, play is not just about having a place for experimentation, it is about having headspace away from the everyday. Very few people have great ideas whilst sat at a desk deep in concentration, it is when our minds are “elsewhere” that inspiration strikes. Taking part in activities that are out of the ordinary and that have a sense of play could just lead to inspiration. People are also more likely to share ideas or ask questions which may at first seem “silly” if they are having fun. Play is a safe way to try out ideas, throw away those that don’t work and develop those that do. 

When we see children’s excitement at their toys this Christmas, let’s not forget that there is value in play for grown-ups too!