But it is not only because it makes learning more enjoyable, but the notion of “play”, which hopefully is synonymous with “joy”, can inspire creativity.
Frequently our most brilliant insights come in the gaps between hard work, when we let our guard down and allow disparate ideas to emerge. In those moments when we distract ourselves with a walk to the restroom, the commute home, or the in-flight movie on a business trip.
Think back to your last truly great work-related idea. Now ask yourself: Where were you? Chances are that you weren’t sitting behind your desk.
In many ways, problem solvers are like artists. Taking a few steps back provides painters with a fresh perspective on their subject, lending them a new angle for approaching their work. Problem solving follows a similar recipe, but it’s not always the physical distance that we need as much as the psychological distance—mental space for new insights to bloom. Walking away doesn’t just put our unconscious to work: It helps us see our problem with a new perspective. We become less emotionally attached and free ourselves from the influence of those in our immediate surroundings.
One way many organizations—particularly those whose employees are engaged in high-level thinking, like Google and 3M—leverage this insight is by deliberately scheduling play into the workday. Play may seem like the domain of children, and in some ways that’s the point. We are naturally creative when we’re young, in part because our brains have not quite developed the capacity to prejudge and censor our ideas.
Putting ourselves in a childlike mind-set opens us up to alternative ways of thinking.
I have found this in my own experience as well. Some of my best ideas have come from running, or watching ridiculous YouTube videos that sometimes are solely for the purpose of stepping back. It is not that I am avoiding work when I am doing that; in fact, it is sometimes the opposite. I need some inspiration from a different source than the one I am focused on. I find sometimes that focusing too hard on one thing, only makes ideas blurrier while also becoming less efficient.
Yet are we purposeful with this in schools? This it not only having time for art and physical education classes, but sometimes taking time even within core subjects to just have a laugh and create an environment where some of the most creative ideas might come your way.
In my presentations or sessions, I will sometimes show a video that is more for a laugh than for the content. It creates a different environment that makes the room more comfortable, and also that although I am serious about my work, I do not take myself too seriously. Hopefully it sets a tone from the room.
Joy can not only create an environment that is more welcoming, but can also tap into our own creativity, as well as our students.