[This article originally appeared on Game Design Aspect of the Month under the category of Gaming the Game Developers.]
In the book, InGenius: A Crash Course On Creativity, by Tina Seelig, the author points out that as toddlers, we are surrounded by bright colors and stimuli to encourage discovery. Through playing, we learn. But as we go through the school system, this creativity can be stifled.
Do you remember your old high school or elementary school? Were the desks lined up in rows? Schools were patterned after military barracks. There’s this picture of the teacher as the “fount of knowledge” and the student as the “vessel.” Then, as we graduate, we may find ourselves in similar spaces: cubicles or tables lined up in a row. The message is that the workplace isn’t a place for play, but for serious effort.
I’ve been at companies with the cubicles and even one where all personal surfing or e-mail had to be done during lunch breaks on a computer set aside for that purpose. But I’ve also been at companies where it’s alright to take a walk or play a couple rounds of pinball. I’ve seen some companies set aside a “fun” location, where there’s the consoles and a stack of games. That’s supposed to be the appeal of working at a game company – that it’s different, it’s fun, and not your regular corporate work-slave place. We’re in the business of play, right?
What does your office space say about your company? In the Stanford design school where Seelig teaches creativity enhancement, the classroom is set up more as a performance stage than a lecture hall. The chairs and tables aren’t bolted down, but are props for exercises. In her book, she interviews several firms that value creativity. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of workplaces with scooters and slides. One of the most interesting case studies was a design firm who encouraged a culture of constant re-invention. If a colleague went on vacation to Paris, she might come back find her workplace transformed into a mock sidewalk café.
I know that when I see the prototyping supplies at NYU, I do get flashbacks of pre-school from all the bright colors of the fun “toys”, like the rubber bands, blocks, Legos, Post-Its, and dice. If you want to capture that spirit of playfulness, then think about promoting an environment of playfulness. It’s too easy to get mired down in sameness. Creative solutions and creative products don’t come from sameness.
Play a little.