Fun Play vs. Serious Fun Play

I was at a friend’s place when her pet dog brought his rubber toy to me expectantly. When I grabbed the toy, Rosco (the dog) would clamp on to the toy and try with all his might to pull it away. Then when he got it away, he would bring it back to me expecting to me to repeat the process over and over again.

dog_fetchPlay is something that all higher-mammals do. It’s a key part of their growth process as they develop the skills for real life. As innocent as Rosco’s play might appear, he’s actually training his ability to drag his prey down and tear it apart.

Leave it to human beings however to take play to a whole new level. From organized sports to gaming and gambling, play can now be done for it’s own sake with no regard to the kinds of skills it might or might not develop for becoming an adult. Witness the parent who screams at the referee or coach or player, and you realize how much perspective has been lost.

What if play is not only fun, but serious? What if playing actually allows us to imagine, create, explore for the purpose of being a citizen of the world? Edison and Einstein played, but don’t mistake their exploration for the kind of kids stuff promoted these days. It’s a serious kind of play requiring thought, effort, and reflection.

Too often we play at being adventurers or play at being scientists. When do we actually be adventurers and scientists?

Thinking Visually

A powerpoint from Critical Mass about the usefulness of visuals to assist in thinking about the world. It’s an important reminder that writing on walls, drawing lines in the walls, and telling stories are all critical cognitive tools for interpreting the world. Without it, we would not be able to develop culture. And in the end, we are only as smart as our culture!

Insanity | Creativity

Ref: Anthologie des Collections (mille tresors de la Bibliotechque nationale de France)
Ref: Anthologie des Collections (mille tresors de la Bibliotechque nationale de France)

When is something judged to be creative?

When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Springs, corporations widely vilified her, but now she is better known as someone who kicked off the environmental movement.

Part way through the construction of the Eiffel Tower, newspapers citing experts claimed that the tower would collapse or that the lightening rods would kill all the fish in the Seine. Today, the tower is a monument to Gustav Eiffel’s brilliant vision.

For thousands of years in many parts of the world, women were considered to be less capable, less intelligent, in short, less than men. Today, although there is still far to go, it is clear that women are equally as capable as men.

A creative idea is unique and revolutionary precisely because it does not fit into the mental models of the society it seeks to change. Yet, at some point society must accept and adopt it for the idea to be truly revolutionary. In other words, a creative idea that has not been realized and judged as such is at best (in Gardner’s words) potentially creative.

So how does one know the difference between an insane idea and a creative idea?

On the surface, an insane idea and a creative idea may look the same. Dig underneath, however, and you’ll find that how the ideas were constructed are radically different. The way in which Rachel Carson carefully interviewed people and recorded observations is different than the way in which a conspiracy theorist might see patterns where there are none.

When you look at Eiffel’s engineering solutions in keeping the tower straight, in using pre-fabricated parts for quick assembly, or in using small parts to increase safety, one realizes that there truly is a creative mind at work.

It is easy to be distracted by the products of creative thinking rather than the thinking behind the products.

Creative people produce more failures…

Creating Minds Book CoverFrom Creating Minds by Howard Gardner

“Simonton demonstrates that the most highly esteemed creators not only are more productive in general, but that they produce more “bad” works that have long been ignored as well as more “good” works that are esteemed by posterity.”

Even Mozart who many saw as a natural genius did not actually start producing masterpieces until he was 21, and by that time had already spent many years composing music. His works prior to that were not considered extraordinary.

The message? Start producing failures now and start learning how to do it better.