Want To Innovate? Science Says, Be Playful!

Want To Innovate? Science Says, Be Playful!

Psychology May 15, 2017 / By Dr. KH Kim
Want To Innovate? Science Says, Be Playful!

Being serious leads to an uncreative, boring life. Innovators are playful and even mischievous.

Young innovators’ interests in topics often start with a playful introduction to the topics in which they are instantly hooked. For example, Albert’s father (Hermann Einstein) playfully introduced Albert Einstein to a compass at age five, and Steve’s neighbor (Larry Lang) playfully introduced Steve Jobs to a carbon microphone at age seven.

Famous innovators exhibit 27 typical characteristics, but playfulness is one of the most critical attitudes (Kim, 2016).  Playfulness, approaching situations in an exploratory manner and seeing the lighter side of a challenge with a sense of humor, enables flexible thinking. While innovators are focused and passionate about their pursuits, they do not take themselves too seriously and maintain a good sense of humor. They eschew the work-play dichotomy preferring, instead, learning and working best in a playful environment where even more  curiosities are sparked. Their playfulness frees their minds and helps them find ideas or solutions seemingly impossible using pure logic. This helps them overcome creative blocks and manage criticisms. Workplaces encouraging playfulness in their employees not only stimulate unique ideas but also cultivate a sense of community. It cultivates a psychologically safe environment where mistakes are valued, risk-taking is encouraged, and everyone can be playful without concern for propriety or contrived politeness.

You achieve innovation by developing playful attitudes. Start by reflecting on your everyday life using a whimsical and mischievous lens using these approaches:

  • Making it a daily ritual to relax and laugh by immersing yourself in fun activities
  • Identifying absurd or strange aspects in popular music, fashion, holidays, and current events
  • Making silly names for your photographs, or making objects in your photographs look like doing something different from what they are doing
  • Using puns or playing with words
  • Having a funny movie on in the background while you're doing simple chores
  • Spending time around humorous people and sharing funny stories or jokes with them
  • Observing how those with a sense of humor handle difficult situations
  • Playing harmless pranks on others, talking in a funny voice, or singing silly songs
  • Asking others to recount the funniest or stupidest event in their lives that make them laugh
  • Reaffirming others’ amusing stories by laughing
  • Recognizing a joke and not being offended or upset, and joking back.

Second, playfully incorporate humor at work:

  • Listen to a funny podcast on your commute to work
  • Make at least one person laugh or smile every day
  • Laugh at yourself by finding a funny side to any situation
  • Keep mistakes and failures into perspective
  • Keep objects at work reminding you of fun experiences
  • Decorate your work space with fun, lighthearted artifacts that make you smile or laugh
  • Incorporate playful elements in your presentations (e.g., adding humor to titles or descriptions, or using funny props, comic strips, or cartoons with funny caricatures and puns)
  • Create a bio with playful statements about your accomplishments.

Third, become childlike by:

  • Developing a sense of humor in yourself as early as possible through fun books and jokes (even a toddler can develop)
  • Embracing your silly or goofy side by playing with children, or volunteering to babysit or work with children
  • Interacting with animals by volunteering at animal shelters or working as a dog-walker or a cat-sitter
  • Throwing a costume party and making a costume of your favorite animal, idol, superhero, food, or literary character
  • Playing games (e.g., cards, magic tricks, or board games) and getting others together for a game night
  • Dancing to funny music
  • Building a fort with blankets or sheets.

Fourth, recognize five funny things per day, record funny moments and humorous materials right away, and develop jokes based on:

  • Shared circumstances (e.g., the weather or the workload)
  • Poking fun of well-known people (e.g., politicians or celebrities)
  • Positive aspects of others; avoid weaknesses or negative aspects (e.g., joking about others’ appearance, shortcomings, or beliefs) and recent challenges, tragedies, or controversies
  • Illogical decisions you made, embarrassing stories or past experiences (e.g., moments from your childhood, awkward experiences in school, or hilarious stories in college), and the moments in your life when you laughed the most
  • Differences or idiosyncrasies between your cultures and others’ culture; expose yourself to and learn from different cultures, customs, behaviors, and habits.

Fifth, invest your time in learning about and developing your sense of humor by observing:

  • Which style of humor fits your personality (e.g., sarcasm or witty comments, dry humor, ironic humor, jokes, puns, anecdotal humor, hyperbolic humor impressions, or funny actions)
  • What makes you laugh (e.g., a funny episode from a movie, television show, book, or comic strip) and sharing it with others
  • When and why others laugh in everyday life and what makes them laugh
  • What makes funny people funny such as general demeanor, body language, content, or tone of voice, and when they pause, smile, or laugh themselves when joking.

Last, deliberately practice your jokes by:

  • Keeping the background story of a joke simple and short
  • Pausing right before the punchline to build drama and anticipation, and giving your audience time to laugh before moving on to a different joke
  • Controlling your expression while others laugh at your joke
  • Not worrying if your joke falls short
  • Improving your jokes’ content, timing, or style based on the audience’s reactions.

Find more research findings about how to innovate in The Creativity Challenge: How We Can Recapture American Innovation (Kim, 2016), and follow Dr. Kim @Kreativity_Kim.

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