An Innovator Walks into a Bar Carrying a Rubber Chicken and a Protractor…

Ok, I don’t have a punchline for this joke set-up, but I bet the title got you thinking of funny ways those items are connected.

Playing, having fun, and laughing are what this post is about. Specifically, how it helps with creativity and innovation. Multiple studies by psychologists and researchers have proven that people who play often are more creative and better innovators. Dr. KH Kim, professor of Creativity and Innovation, states that “playfulness is one of the most critical attitudes” of innovators and creative people.

The act of playing opens the mind to see connections that it would not normally see. Often, when running, I think of new ideas or solutions to current problems. At my company’s quarterly and annual executive meetings, there are paper and crayons and hand toys readily available. Our executive group comes up with our best solutions and new ideas when we are “playing.” Kim explains, “playfulness, approaching situations in an exploratory manner, and seeing the lighter side of a challenge with a sense of humor enables flexible thinking.”

Recall a time when you had an excellent idea. What were you doing? What was your emotional and mental state? Chances are that you were not depressed and curled up on the couch. Ideas come from people that are energized. Tony Robbins, the famous life coach and motivational speaker, jumps on a mini trampoline before presentations. He says that playful act changes his entire state of being so he can be creative. To paraphrase Robbins, you need to prime your state so you can look at creative ways to solve problems. If you’re in the wrong state of mind, you cannot concentrate on the solution. You only see the problem.

Dr. Kim provides the following suggestions to encourage a playful mindset:

  • Make playing a daily ritual. Find a reason to laugh and do something active every day.
  • Look for strange and funny aspects in common, everyday things such as music, fashion, and current events.
  • Keep fun things around your work area that make you smile or laugh.
  • Include humor in presentations.

Go ahead and breakout your Slinkys, Silly Putty, and other desk toys so you can create, innovate, and solve.