Invention at Play

Does Play Matter?
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All Work & No Play?

Alison Gopnik, University of California at Berkeley, co-author, The Scientist in the Crib:
The challenge for adults is to try and get the combination of saying “I’m not just playing around, I’m playing for a purpose,” and yet to have that kind of freedom and spontaneity and creativity that we see children have.

Jeri Robinson vice president of Early Childhood Programs, The Children's Museum, Boston:
You don’t outgrow your need for play. Your need for play may change, or the kinds of things you might do for play will change, but the need doesn’t change.

Michèle Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., co-author, Sparks of Genius:
Adults are consumed most of the time with work. They don’t have that much time for play, or they tend not to give themselves much time for play. So they’re tired,and it’s easier to consume.

Robert Root-Bernstein, Michigan State University, co-author, Sparks of Genius:
When I look at most of my colleagues, I find more of them working 16 and 18 hour days. They don’t have time to play, They don’t have time to play even when they’re home, they’re too tired. And if innovation requires play, which I really believe that it does, then we’re getting more and more people doing what some person at the top of a corporation says is important. “You do this.”

Frank Wilson, M.D., Stanford University Medical Center, author, The Hand:
You look at the successful lives of people who have really made a difference in human society, and what you find is that they didn’t do things by the rules. They, in fact, insisted on making their own rules. They were playful people.

Robert Root-Bernstein:
No one becomes a great inventor or a great scientist or a great writer or anything else unless they love what they do. Because you have to really be able to invest your entire soul into something. And if you can’t play at it, if you can’t just do something because you enjoy it, then you can’t do it completely enough or long enough to succeed at it.

John Fabel, inventor, adjunct professor of design, Hampshire College:
I think the encouragement of play in the workplace is a marvelous trend.

IDEO Designer:
We are down to 40 from an original of 173 ideas.

John Fabel:
I think that not only does it generate more ideas, but it also reinvigorates the role that play has in connecting us together and helping us to work better together.

IDEO Designer:
So for now we’re just playing around.

David Kelley, founder and chairman, IDEO, product design company:
The idea was the group that you hang around with is really important to how innovative you are, how creative you are. And so by picking my friends, people I was already comfortable working with, and people who had the same kind of value system, and that comfort, I thought, would allow us to do great work, and it turns out it works out pretty well.

IDEO Designer #1:
Ok, how many for dogs? One, two, three, four, five.

IDEO Designer #2:
A bone bell. It’s kind of like a barbell for dogs.

IDEO Designer #3:
It makes them sweat, and everything’s much more of an effort.

Jeri Robinson:
In the workplace, we need the same things that children need. We need a place to be creative. We need a place to be interactive. We need a place for social interaction. We need a place to explore new tools.

John Fabel, inventor, adjunct professor of design, Hampshire College:
Well, I think if play is exploration, and gives us license to try new ideas, work, in many ways, is application of that understanding.

David Kelley:
We went through a period in business where you had to sit at your desk and have your head down. People perfected ways of looking like they were busy, by holding the phone up to their ear when they weren’t and so forth. But today we actually have gotten to the point where enlightened companies allow their people to play.

Alison Gopnik:
You can say to a company in Silicon Valley, “Okay, you guys, here’s the general space of what we want you to find out about, and we’re just going to let you play around until you do.”

Michéle Root-Bernstein:
When play is purposefully put in the workforce, it strikes me that it’s a kind of communal play. It’s a play that has rules to it: that this is where you will play, this is why you will play, this is how you will play. So it strikes me as not quite the real thing.

Robert Root-Bernstein:
The critical message here is we go and look at where the big companies started: the garages, the little home laboratory, the inventor tinkering in his basement. There are too many of these stories to be ignored. They’re telling us that we need to have people doing these things.

David Kelley:
The first step is to get people to start feeling like play’s okay, and that they’re inherently a creative person.

Jeri Robinson:
We have businesses who’ve actually brought their folks here to do play exercises with the idea of getting the creative juices going, to have people see each other in a different kind of light, to learn about one another, to learn about new strengths, new interests, and you can do that through play.

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My Favorite was...

My favorite toys were hammers, nails, saws, and scavenged lumber that I used for building forts, airplanes, and boats-although you had to use your imagination to what they were on completion.

Craig Venter, geneticist

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