Summer May Be Ending, But Its Lesson of Play Are Evergreen – and Vital

Summer May Be Ending, But Its Lesson of Play Are Evergreen – and Vital

Create September 16, 2019 / By Larry Robertson
Summer May Be Ending, But Its Lesson of Play Are Evergreen – and Vital
SYNOPSIS

Play isn't seasonal, it's inherently human. Remembering its lessons can go a long way to making it part of all you do.

Summer. Traditionally, it’s a time when things slow, we find space, and we play, especially games. Lawn, beach, and board games are newly sprung from closets and attics like a mid-year Christmas morning. We remember the joy. We rediscover skills, and muscles, and forms of laughter as if for the first time. And we do whatever it is we do, simply, without agenda or goal, and for the unpretentious reward of just playing. And then, as fast as it opened the window seems to close. Despite the promises made to change how we think and do throughout the coming year, those congested and structured routines creep back. Time speeds up, and there seems less of it too. We begin, often unconsciously, to parse. And things like games and play get set aside.

 It’s more than a shame. This so-called transition back to reality isn’t reality. Play is a life-giving, progress-feeding part of who we are, not simply something we allow for now and then. Humans are among the few species known to need play far into adulthood, to actively seek it out, and to atrophy in its absence. As important, play is at the root of our creativity capacity. Peel back the layers and you’ll find that virtually every breakthrough idea with any staying power began with play. 

 As the speed of life throttles ever forward, it’s easy to feel not only as if there’s no time for things like games, but that there isn’t time for play. This isn’t a fait accompli, and the lessons of games and of play can go a long way to bringing play and creativity back into your work and life, every day, in every season. Given a little thought, odds are you could discern such lessons from the games you love. But you’re busy. So allow the simple game Jenga and these 5 reminders about play and creation to help you out. 

5 Reminders About Play and Creation

  1. The importance of deconstruction. Jenga is a game simple in its construct and its execution: 54 rectangular wooden blocks are stacked in layers of three blocks each, with the rows of blocks alternating perpendicularly layer upon layer. Then play begins. In Swahili, Jenga means to build. But you play the game by deconstructingas much as you seek to build. The method of play is to remove blocks one at a time from the starting tower, and then add each removed block back to the top to raise the height of the tower, bit by bit, without toppling it. As the name of the game exemplifies, most of us place our emphasis on the build part, forgetting that to get anywhere we regularly have to deconstruct what we have, even what we know, to make it fit every changing conditions. More than remembering, embracing the need for deconstruction is vital – not just in Jenga, but in this wobbly world we all now live in. 
  2. The reality of cocreation. Almost all games are meant to be played with others, and Jenga is no exception. But more than most, Jenga is a game that quite literally asks each participant to ‘build’ on what the other players do. Each person must work with what the previous players have done – the choices they’ve made about what to deconstruct, and then how they’ve gone about constructing anew, and then similarly make choices and moves that fundamentally shape the choices of the rest. Creativity is like that too. Never a solo act, it is a cocreation. And when seen that way, the odds of realizing a breakthrough idea with actual impact automatically rise.
  3. The value in difference. With the kind of passing glance most of us give to the details of things right in front of us, you could easily conclude the wooden blocks in Jenga are all the same shape and size. They’re not. Each is consciously made to differ slightly, the idea being to add to the challenge of achieving balance. This little piece of overlooked intelligence teaches two critically important lessons, the first being the reality of and value in difference. In Jenga, if all the blocks were exactly alike, stacking and restacking them would ultimately have a finite and quickly boring set of possible outcomes for how the game unfolds. The long-term success of the game, in other words, would be truncated and fast. Those differences block to block ensure that an endless variety of outcomes exist and that the game will stay fresh, fun, and interesting ongoing. It also requires the players to deal with difference, but interestingly to do so not by bemoaning difference, but by using it to collective advantage – a truly novel, eminently transferable strategy.
  4. The truth about balance. Those differences in the Jenga pieces teach a second lesson, one about balance – a lesson with three simple parts: 1) Balance is something hard won; 2) It requires ongoing attention; and 3) In the end, it’s never about one person’s quest for balance, but a quilt of quests interwoven with one another. Balance isn’t a moment or an outcome, but instead another form of cocreation. Seeing balance this way makes all the difference.
  5. The power in purposeful accidents. The idea for Jenga didn’t appear as a lightning strike out of the clear blue sky, something we all too often credit as the origin of creative ideas. As a kid, the game’s creator Leslie Scott used to play a stacking game with her family using her brother’s blocks. They loved the game, so much so that they continued to play it and to evolve it over time. Scott even ported it beyond her childhood, playing it with her adult friends at dinner parties. Concluding it could be sold as a product was an afterthought. It was only when she tuned into the joy of her friends wanting to play more of “the game with bricks” that the business idea came forth. The true genesis was a gradual accumulation of observations and ideas over time. In those pre-product years, the overriding ‘purpose’ wasn’t profit, it was fun. The ‘accident’ of a bigger idea came later when Scott wasn’t even looking for it. It’s a common backstory for breakthrough ideas. 

Maybe you can’t sit down and play a game of Jenga each day to refresh your play skills, though maybe you should. But keeping these simple lessons from the game in mind just might keep you from blocking out that creative capacity you and all of us inherently possess and help you put it back into play, right where it should be.

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