Play is one of the seven core functions of creativity. But if you think about a conventional “play to win” with a predefined set of rules, think again. The ability to Play in the context of creativity means being able to reshape the rules. Reshaping the rules creates opportunities.
In this issue, we play with rules and practice our ability to reshape them. We start by playing a real game and end with real breakthroughs in the context of real-world problems. Ready? Let’s break some rules!
There’s a New Game in Town
Playing any game is like taking a vacation. It’s an imaginative experience, regardless of the game we play. As adults, many of us don’t have enough opportunities to play games or don’t allow ourselves to create such opportunities. And we really should.
A game is based on a predefined set of rules. But since it is “just a game,” nothing prevents us from changing them. When you change even the simplest game rule, the entire gameplay and dynamics can change. The game turns into a whole new experience with numerous surprises and unexpected moves, if only because you and your friends are playing in uncharted territory.
Changing the rules of a game is not always straightforward. It often requires imagination and critical thinking. An arbitrary set of rules will not stick and will not be fun to play with. You have to consider rules that can actually work and fit into the context of the game.
Pick a game you are familiar with, change some of its rules, and try it out with your friends and family.
Bend Old Habits
Let’s move on to the real world. We are creatures of habit. Some of our habits are good, and some we try to break. What’s common to all of them is they make us operate on autopilot. And the autopilot is a creativity killer.
Pick a habit you have, good or bad, and try to bend the rules under which you operate. Just a bit. While breaking a habit is often tricky, bending some rules is much easier. Even if you don’t get rid of the habit (and some habits are good, so why get rid of them), reshaping some rules will turn off your autopilot. And this, in turn, can reveal new opportunities and insights.
Challenge the Problem
Creativity thrives on constraints. When there are no constraints and rules, we tend to devise less innovative solutions to a challenge we face. At the same time, a creative breakthrough is often the result of seeing an alternative set of rules and applying them to the challenge.
Reframing a problem is a way of changing the rules. When you look at a problem from a different perspective or move it into a different domain, you still have rules and constraints, but they might be radically different.
Pick a real problem you are facing — a problem that requires a creative solution — and try to reframe it. List the rules governing the problem and challenge them. Try breaking some of the rules and use that to generate innovative solutions. Test and validate them. Many ideas will not be valid, but a few might. Experiment with them and use them to generate even more ideas.