Reshape the Rules


Play depends on freedom and choice, but it is also guided by rules and structure. These two traits of Play coexist as the rules are self-chosen by the players. Nothing is set in stone, and it is entirely up to the players to define and agree on the rules they will follow.

Creative breakthroughs happen when you manage to see an alternative set of rules and apply them to your challenges. They are still rules, but maybe not the exact set of rules other people see when looking at the problem and solution spaces.

Reshaping the Rules is literally a game-changer. Changing the rules often changes your perspective and exposes methods and insights hidden in your blind spot, masked by the previous set of rules. When you set or affect the rules, you feel more connected, and it enhances your sense of freedom.

Constraints can be great for Creativity, but knowing when they are nothing more than manmade rules that can be replaced with a different self-chosen set of rules, is the key to opening a universe of opportunities. When you create a setup and adopt a mindset in which it is possible (and even encouraged) to break some of the existing rules and replace them with new ones, you become more playful and more creative.

actionable steps

Consider the explicit and implicit rules under which you operate in various activities, projects, and domains.

Challenge the rules and consider an alternative set of rules (or modifications to some existing rules).

If the rules cannot be changed in the grander scheme of things, reshape the rules on a smaller or local scale. Find a way to spice up your activities with new ways of doing them.

Play with imaginary setups or contexts that will turn activities into something completely different even if you don’t change how you perform them.


Example 1

Pablo Picasso is known best for his Cubist artworks. In fact, Picasso was one of the artists who invented Cubism at the beginning of the 20th century. Cubism is basically a set of rules for creating a visual expression. It is innovative and imaginative because it is radically different from any set of rules that preceded it. Picasso managed to break free from the practices that ruled the art world before his time and develop an alternative set of rules. They are still rules, but they form an alternative universe.

Example 2

Consider a weekly team meeting designed to discuss a project’s status and some issues that came up during the week. Such a session can be critical to the team’s alignment and an essential platform for thinking together about the next steps, especially when things are not going smoothly according to plan. At the same time, many people find such meetings boring or ineffective at a personal level. At best, they can be very repetitive. But what if the team decides to spice up the meetings by changing the rules every now and then? What if every team member will play a famous character when presenting the status or brainstorming some challenge? What if you agree in advance to raise only bad, ridiculous ideas? How about changing the location of the meeting? Maybe conducting it outdoor, perhaps even while walking or jogging?

Attribution and Inspiration

  • Inspired by the definition of Play by Peter Gray

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