The Play Instinct | Part 1

“Playfulness is related to the creative act. And it’s instinctual, an intrinsic part of humanity.” – Milton Glaser

If necessity is the mother of invention, then play is certainly the father. A playful attitude is fundamental to all creative thinking. Indeed, most innovative ideas are generated when we are romping in the playground of our mind. That’s because our defenses are down, our mental locks have been broken and there is little regard for rules, practicality or being wrong.

Most of life presents us with a win/lose proposition: if you don’t win, you lose. This is true for most sporting events, coin tosses, games, elections and the like. When you play, however, a different kind of logic is at work: a win/no-win logic. This is an important distinction because it means that instead of being penalized for our mistakes, we learn from them. Thus, when we win, we win; when we don’t, we learn. This is actually a very nice arrangement. The only thing play costs us is the time it takes to do it.

The ancient Greeks understood that learning comes through playing. Their concept for education (paideia) is almost identical to their concept for play (paidia). They believed if a person was still playing, then he was still learning and living. The philosopher Plato probably had this in mind when he said, “What then is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play.”