It Pays To Play.

The Greek philosophers rained praise on play, hailing leisure time as the foundation of ‘the good life’. More recently, Professor Jonathan Gershuny, Oxford University’s time-use expert, has found that some of the greatest innovations, art, philosophy and discoveries were formed during play.

What is play?

Play can broadly be defined as any purposeless, all-consuming, voluntary and fun activity, where you are focused on the process rather than the end result. It is a state of mind. An attitude of curiosity and wonder. However, trivial it most certainly is not. Play is also your grey matter’s favourite way of learning and as integral to our biological wellbeing as sleep or nutrition.

Unfortunately, over 15 centuries, the Greek wisdom has gradually lost favour and work has become the golden beacon. Almost like a religion, work offers a sense of identity and purpose. Sharp elbows are bared as everyone flocks to join the Cult of Busy.

Dr. Stuart Brown, neuroscientist and founder of the National Institute for Play, is bringing play back in a big way. Brown advocates that play shouldn’t stop once we’re fit for facial hair, as it continues to have a dramatic and positive impact throughout our lives. As adults, play creates rich, new neural connections that fire together in new ways building more creative, productive and innovative minds, which in turn creates more creative, productive and innovative people and societies.

Brown has taken more than 6,000 ‘play histories’ and found that those who do not play are often joyless, workaholics and, at their core, depressed. His first scientific look at play came in 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed the campus tower at the University of Texas carrying a Remington 700 rifle, took aim, wounded 31 and killed fifteen. It was later revealed that he had also murdered his wife and mother. As Brown delved deep in to Whitman’s history, speaking to teachers, the local priest and uncovering a childhood lived under the abusive, relentless, domineering hand of his father, it became clear that Whitman had never played. The free, creative acts that encourage children to think outside the box, take risks, discover and learn social nuances simply did not happen. This absence of play had a significant impact on his ability to be flexible and deal with stress without resorting to violence. 

Creative leaders from IDEO, Google, Klutz and Stanford Neuroscience have joined Brown to lead Stanford’s ‘From Play to Innovation’class, exploring play and its impact on corporate innovation. Brown identifies play as the prerequisite to creativity, innovation and essential to survival in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Backed by serious science, he advises on how a playful approach can enhance your ability to solve complex problems in the board room.

On a recent trip to Hewlett-Packard, Brown demonstrated how play has a direct, practical impact on creativity and our ability to solve problem. Each member of the tech giant’s research and development team was blind-folded and asked to invent possible uses for an unknown 3d objects placed in their hands. Through hand-mind stimulation, this simple task boosted the teams’ scores on a test of creative thinking and very clearly back the case for play.

Discover how play can help harness your creative clout in Brown’s book ‘Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.’