Making new connections
In childhood, play helps us make new connections and discoveries. A child learns what a firefighter is at school, she goes home to play and decides that her stuffed Octopus is now a firefighter because she’s got long arms and is good with water. Play allows us to draw connections and connect new pieces of the puzzle about how the world works.
The same thing is true of a Labs project.
I would say it's very freeing.
That’s Lauren Blackburn, a Senior UX Designer here at Kin + Carta and a swell person in her own right.
Just the lack of pressure to perform and deliver something totally buttoned up kind of encourages you to free up the way you're thinking or approaching a problem with it in a way that's different from maybe how a team might approach a project in a typical day-to-day.
We also spoke with Dave Clark, Senior Director of Service Design and Digital Strategy here at Kin + Carta, who said the connections made in something like a LABS project are invaluable.
It allows us to get ahead, learn and experiment about what the technologies are good at. Not necessarily aligning them to a problem, but figuring out what problems do they solve well.
Practicing skills necessary for the future.
In a similar sense, play helps us practice skills we may need later on, without the risk. Grizzly bear cubs wrestle because it helps them practice how to hunt, fight, and defend themselves. When they’re under threat, it’s not the first time they’ve ever fought from their hind legs, or tried to swipe with their paws. It works the same way for humans. Except minus the paws and bite strength powerful enough to crush a bowling ball. Note to self. Cancel Grizzly Bowling League.
For us, building things like our own cryptocurrency or an AI-based sign language program gives us the chance to experiment and learn in an environment that’s low on risk but great for hands-on learning.
"It's valuable when the client comes and says, "I need expertise on how to apply these new technologies. I don't even know what to do with sensors, but I have a feeling that it might be applicable in my industry." Then now we have a group of people who've been working on this and who can bring their expertise and say, "This is the type of thing that sensors can really do well." ... we now know enough about how to use them, because we've built things with them."
(13:32) Enhancing Creativity
It’s also why play makes us more creative. Steve Jobs once described creativity as “connecting the seemingly unconnectable.” Research shows us that being in a state of play makes us more likely to do exactly that. Play helps us unlock brand new ways of thinking.
In fact, many groundbreaking innovations can be drawn back first to MUSIC. The mechanics of the earliest pianos made people ask “what if those hammers struck letters instead of notes.” That gave us “the writing harpsichord.” Today we’d call it a typewriter.
The punch cards that made the first programmable computers work? They were first inspired by cards used in mechanical looms.
Labs projects, and Express Day, our “Hackathon” at Kin + Carta, have yielded breakthroughs that might not be as world-changing, but have served up plenty of joy.
"I just thought of another project that either came out of Express Day or one of the earlier Forward days, was the beer vending machine that we have in the office that is now mostly repurposed for... Oh, shoot. I forget the name. It's the fizzy water that everyone likes."
Yes, LaCroix is the fizzy water that briefly escaped Lauren’s mind. She’s referring to Vender, the smart beer vending machine born out of a company wide “hackathon” day. Beer was replaced with LaCroix only when our new office upgraded to a kegerator.
Developing Social Skills
Speaking of beer, play is also a critical part of social development. Playful wrestling not only helps bears practice how to defend themselves, but they also learn how to get along, how to be close to one another and not, you know... kill each other. In short, play teaches us how to empathize and cooperate.
Lauren says that part of the joy of a LABS project is that it can feel like an improv exercise.
"If you are familiar with the concept of yes, and, it's a lot of yes-and-ing other ideas, and there's a lot of good feedback that happens, a lot of good bouncing ideas off of each other and everything, and there's, I think... Because there's less pressure to have a buttoned-up idea, because everyone's kind of in that same head space of play….
Removing the usual requirements and consequences of a client project makes bouncing ideas around a little easier, which makes us trust each other more, and become better collaborators for when it really counts."
Dave Clark says it’s why creating room for experimentation is so important.
"When you're experimenting, you have to be comfortable with being wrong. There's going to be lots of things that don't go the way you expect them to, and that is an important part of the process, because I think that if you just... If all it is, is setting yourself up to prove what you assumed, you don't really get too much innovation and you don't get too much enjoyable experience, to be honest."
So is play something that can be practiced? That’s what we asked Brian Burkhart, Founder & Chief Word Guy at a company called SquarePlanet Presentations.
"I think it's mission critical to think of play as a skill that can be developed, engineered, and enhanced over time. The thing that has really worked for us is to actually build structure around it."
"A large portion of the work Brian and his team does is creating immersive live event experiences for businesses. Even during COVID-era virtual events, Brain says creating playful experiences for attendees is not just a luxury, but a must-have."
"It's things like in a virtual world, we encourage our clients to do things like if you're having your event on a Thursday, have a chunk where you call it Fursday. That means you bring your little critter with you. You bring your dog or your kitty, and you put it on your lap for Fursday…"
...it was Taco Tuesday on Tuesday afternoon. Everyone was encouraged in advance to get ready, "Move your computer to the kitchen because we're going to cook and eat together."
"It's really, really easy to look at all of those different parts and think of them as an utter waste of time, and yet they are the most human of all of the elements."
"Brian says he believes a playful mindset at work means letting no opportunity go to waste. Over the years, the deliberate habit of play has taken many forms. Marketing campaigns become things like “Square-planesta” - a fictitious prescription medicine for executives who suffer from poor communication habits, complete with pill bottles filled with orange jelly beans. Team meetings get kicked off with “Gong songs” where employees are required to compose a short rhyming poem, before striking a small gong. His team makes a habit of thinking with a playful mindset, in order to help his clients do the same."
It’s become so ingrained in his brain, Brain says he can’t help himself:
"Just this past Christmas holiday I sent a client an embroidered SquarePlanet coat. Before I put it in the box, I just grabbed some post-its and I made little jokes about his favorite football team, which is the exact opposite of my favorite football team. I planted those little pieces of paper inside the pockets of the coat knowing that he'll eventually find them and he'll laugh."