Being playful and experimental

In the arts and many other industries, and in our professional and personal lives, innovation can only happen with those who are willing to experiment with being both playful and experimental.

This is useful to know, especially with the range of constraints and restrictions still occurring around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of the war in Ukraine. Coupling these with the challenges and limitations of a remote and hybrid workplace, are combining to cause many of us to long for more freedom and adventure. Yet many of us are still feeling bound to our screens, locked within the boundaries of our homes and local neighbourhoods.

It is possible to shift our inertia and the range of negative feelings that the lockdowns produce by exploring possibilities and opportunities for expanding our knowledge through learning. By knowing how to be more playful and experimental, and especially by taking up an initial set of regular reflective practices to make the space our minds need to be curious and think differently! 

A unique moment in time

We could use this unique moment in time to take up a set of regular reflective practices, and for igniting your curiosity and our creative juices to expand our capacity for creativity.

At the same time, use this moment to explore opportunities to learn and expand your knowledge to adapt and grow through the current high levels of uncertainty and instability. This also plays an important role in the productivity and prosperity of economies, organisations, and individuals. 

The post-pandemic world is going to need a lot of new knowledge as we face a time of disruption and transformation.

Expanding our knowledge

Most of us are aware that our desire to create involves learning from some kind of direct experience. Like painting, where our hands are likely to get dirty, where we may produce a number of poor efforts (which we often hide) before we eventually create one that we can accept and live with.

Learning from a direct experience is more effective if coupled with reflection – that is, the intentional attempt to synthesise, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.

Research reveals that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by a greater perceived ability to achieve a goal. This will improve your confidence, self-belief, and conviction that you can achieve it.

Learning from reflecting on experience

Making the learning experience a playful and experimental one allows us to have fun, in ways that engage our multiple intelligences – both our cognitive brains and our heart-and-gut brains, in ways that challenge our mental maps.

This also helps us develop our learning agility – “learning what to do when you don’t know what to do” especially important in a world of constant and disruptive change.

This will be a vital and critical skillset to cultivate in the post-COVID world, where there is no playbook or reliable template for long-term planning.

Starting with elastic thinking

It starts with developing our elastic thinking skills, where–according to Leonard Mlodinow – it is now prime time for people to harness the power of “elastic thinking” to navigate an unstable world and underpins our ability to adapt and be creative.

And involves developing the capacity to let go of comfortable ideas and become accustomed to ambiguity and contradiction; the capability to rise above conventional mindsets and to reframe the questions we ask; the ability to abandon our ingrained assumptions and open ourselves to new paradigms; the propensity to rely on imagination as much as on logic and to generate and integrate a wide variety of ideas; and the willingness to experiment and be tolerant of failure.

At ImagineNation™, we developed a four-step cognitive process to help people stretch their mental maps, feelings, thinking, behaviours, and actions, enabling them to be playful and experimental by focussing on these key elements that enable reflective practice:

  • Discovering
  • Sensemaking
  • Internalising
  • Applying

Exploring the role of failing fast

Achieving creative and innovative outcomes when playing and experimenting with thinking usually involves some kind of failure, the kind where we fail flat on our faces!

Yet when being brave, playful, and courageous, and experimenting, you have to be willing to make mistakes and fail. The key is to try new things and experiment, like children do, and not worry too much about what others think.

At the same time, adopting a reflective practice supports our willingness to let go and come from a beginners mind, to unlearn what may have worked previously, whilst being vulnerable and open-hearted, minded and willed to deeply reflect on what happened and what knowledge you may gain and what you might learn from it.

Continuously learning from reflective practice

This means that work must become more learning-focused, where an organisations’ or teams’ collective aspiration is set free and people have permission, safety, and trust to be playful and experimental.

To “learn by doing and reflecting”, your team or organisation must be:

  • Encouraged to continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire,
  • Re-educated to elasticise their thinking and develop new mental maps and where expansive patterns of feeling and thinking are nurtured,
  • Committed to continuously learning how to learn together, at a speed faster than the competition.
  • Resulting in the intelligence of the organisation or team exceeding the intelligence of individuals in the team and in the organisation, and by harnessing the collective’s capacity to create, invent and innovate through enacting a set of habitual reflective practices.

CCS Cards for play and critical reflection:

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning a tool we like to use that can provide both a sense of play and an opportunity for critical reflection. As many of you may know, CCS Cards are image cards containing a special set of photos, illustrations, and words. Just holding them, sorting them, and talking about what particular cards might mean for you is an enjoyable, playful activity that often leads to creative responses.

Furthermore, as a tool for reflective practice, CCS Cards give people a powerful way to recall and recreate their lived experiences by incorporating their feelings and emotions. The cards provide participants with self-selected representations that they can link to all the associated concepts, feelings, words, and actions that were part of the lived experience. Armed with this clearer picture, they are better able to reflect upon and learn from their experience.  The cards also provide an easy way to share and compare their reflections with others, which is vital for effective collaboration.

Bringing together theory and practice

Enacting a set of regular reflective practices helps us effectively bring together and integrate theory and practice, where through reflection, people are able to:

  • Discover new mental maps, feelings, thoughts, and ideas,
  • Make sense of these in their own context or situation,
  • Internalise and assimilate the impact of these mental maps by introducing options and choices for being, thinking, and acting differently,
  • Apply that information to add to their existing knowledge base and reach a higher level of understanding, Adapt how they feel, think and act as resources in new, unknown, unexpected, and disruptive situations, as well as in how they plan, implement, and review their actions.
  • Surely, these might comprise a helpful set of strategies to embrace to help you thrive in these challenging times?

Isn’t there an inherent opportunity for all of us to discover and explore new ways of having more fun, by being playful and experimental?

Perhaps we might discover new ways of adapting and thriving individually and collectively co-create more individual freedom, wonderful fun, and exciting adventures that we are all craving, and become future-fit, in our constantly changing, uncertain, and unstable world?