Build Playful Paths into Imagination

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Not only is play the exultation of the possible, as Martin Buber claimed, but it’s our brain’s preferred way of learning. Luckily, the human brain comes equipped with a playful enthusiasm for life. In fact, George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Why look at play and learning as separate things when they are connected at our core? Play frees our mind, solve problems, or create spirited adventures many crave but most people fail to imagine for themselves.  It turns out that play’s also an ideal learning opportunity. How so?

Follow one or two  new neuron pathways today and watch boring habits fade and yield to infinite playful imaginings. It’s really about moving from STUCK to UNSTUCK through playful possibilities.

Imagination – in its highest form of investigation, means doing what turns the dial to fully alive to stay deeply engrossed.

Mentoring leads to playful mind-guiding when we both teach new neuron pathways and also learn about innovative possibilities from others. Start such an exchange with a young child and we’re already on our way.

Recently my six-year old grandson directed me in a play he wrote and we both had so much fun, that Hendrik decided to become a director when he grows up.  Maslow would have called this, “creativity as purposeful play.”  Next time we’re together my five year old granddaughter plans to get Nana hopping to her latest  dance moves, and both children promised to teach piano from what they already know.

Can you see why our playful sessions spill buckets of imagination into our world?  We can all find our imagination’s sweet spot, right where we stand at any given moment. How so?

Simply do one thing in a new way and voila, we’ve just created a new neuron pathway for imagination’s infinite possibilities. Einstein dreamed of riding the curve of an arc and ended up proposing the theory of relativity. The opposite is also true. Do the same things in the same old way – and we will etch out an even deeper neuron pathway for another boring habit. Maybe that’s why Jean Piaget cautioned that to be creative, is to stay in part a child, with the “creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.”

Yes, choices matter here

Play that steps us into delightfully new realities, often starts with inspiration that sparks new action in a different direction. Did I just say action?

Through play we learn how to create in ways that appeal to our highest intelligence. Play keeps our brains vital, fully alive, and prepped for enthusiasm. Without the enjoyment that play offers , life just doesn’t open opportunities for invention.

Play is our best way toward understanding.

Our play instinct dovetails with our learning instinct that gives us courage to face stress or heal after loss and disappointment.

Inside each of us are playful talents, waiting to be unleashed and developed, as seen in the suggested pathways into play below.

10  pathways to follow into your imagination …

  1. Kindle and design an idea. Start with a personal passion and follow the fun, as imagination becomes your creative superpower to advance an innovation, by opening vast and fascinating opportunities beyond what currently exists.

Just as the iPod for instance,  started with an innovative  idea,  Steve Jobs and other mind-guides continue to design Apple products that revolutionize communication. Fast Company celebrated the last decade’s 14 biggest such design moments, all of which unveil the original ideas that rolled into products with possibilities. How does it happen? Your brain’s hippocampus releases a shot of dopamine in  response to novelty. Anthony Grace at the University of Pittsburgh describes a feedback loop that involves a chemical and electrical interactions between dopamine and novel or unexpected events. This lively process appears to lock in memory, as it also engages the amygdala where the brain processes emotional information that feeds innovation. Over time, the very process of innovation and creative actions become habits, embedded in our basal ganglia.

  1. Mimic creative people. Did you know brains come equipped to mimic habits in those we hang with?  Believe it or not, we can literally adopt another person’s inspiration by simply observing them and noticing what they say or do. It’s also true that while innovation may be more vital than ever in your life, individuals who think act and build differently remain rare.  That’s where your brain and a few inspirational quotes can help out.  How so?

Grab one new idea from these posters and then run with it!

Mirror neurons act as our brains copying equipment show how innovative cultures and teams come from imitation.  Our brain’s mirror neurons illustrate how we watch and mirror the culture others live. Deep inside our brain cells these neurons will fire in reaction to another’s beliefs as they roll into activity. See any new opportunities for innovation where you work, as they play out in mimicking an innovator’s actions?

  1. Link opposites together and build from both sides. Einstein mastered the art and science of sticking oddly matched pieces together and so can we. Need a breakthrough to top up the creativity on a project? Then build an innovative culture of connecting opposites in ways that few non-innovators think to connect.

If you’ve ever benefited from unique insights, you’ve likely also seen opposing viewpoints from high-performance minds, that beg to differ. So why then, do disagreements about opposing views so often break up relationships, terminate innovative projects, shut down brilliant people, promote racism, and even ignite wars?

Tone is the brain’s best approach to tame an amygdala in ways that harness innovative energy. Rather than take potshots at people, consider disagreements as tools to build goodwill across differences, and diversity becomes the hottest neuron pathway to innovative solutions. Designs that come from engaging genius thinkers, are the same offerings that prosper a wider community.

  1. Create a round table to brainstorm a process. Start with a fun lunch invitation to a few people who tend to think outside boxes. Open your lunch session with a question such as What if .. and have everybody finish it by suggesting an innovation you could build together to improve a shared problem.

The other day I facilitated a round table of leaders across many fields, and after several unexpected angles tossed possibilities into the mix, we came up with a renewal project that none of us could have masterminded alone. Have you experienced ideas piggybacked onto others from alternative positions?  Innovation, whether from arts or science, embodies mysteries and playfulness to ponder.

It’s that place that bubbles over in a circle where no brain is left behind. It’s where brilliant solutions tend to flow from pools just outside of prevailing thought, where people build beyond limitations. It’s where a culture of innovative thought hooks difficult facts onto ordinary experiences people live – so that learning increases in less time, with innovative designs as visible results.

  1. Collaborate with a person who differs. Know anybody whose culture, ethnicity, beliefs or personality differs from yours? If not, propose an idea to a neighbor or supervisor. Innovation rarely waits for situations to improve but shapes dendrite brain cells by outside worlds that spark mental growth based more on what you do than what’s done to you. The opposite of toxic spaces is a climate of creative collaboration where innovative leaders engage opposing views to discover another direction created from different angles. To work together is to listen to new ideas and to engage another’s talents. Innovative partnerships tend to work better when different players share in a common vision, and when the outcomes and expectations are clearly defined.

  2. Reward talent. Support talents whenever you see them in action. Thank people. Tell others about their insights. Congratulate every successful outcome. Interview a talented peer and write about the talents in a memo that you circulate. In too many circles problems go unsolved while some of the finest minds sit passively waiting to be encouraged, and remain outside of the innovative process. In order to bridge the gap between the multiple intelligences people bring to any circle, and the problems that need solutions, reward people for refreshing new ideas. As part of that process why not survey your unique intelligences in Chapter 7 to see which talents you have up and running innovatively. As others awaken new intelligences for innovative designs, thank them for diverse perspectives before you build that neuron pathway to a refreshing new innovation.

  3. Pose two-footed questions. Toss fun, adventure and investigation into an ordinary day – and then expect extraordinary results. The best way to integrate innovation into your existing situation is to question ways that lead you into creative solutions. Start with a two-footed question and then discuss solution possibilities from imaginative angles. I presented a session on innovation to university faculty recently, and I challenged participants with this two-footed question: What will  innovation look like in the 21st Century, and how can your creative intelligence help lead the way? Notice how the second foot engages others? How could a two-footed question launch your next innovative offering along a new neuron pathway toward possibilities?

  4. Capitalize on tone tools for tough times. Navigate through problems with breakneck speed toward   a related possibility.  Innovation gets lost and ruts go deeper in toxic climates such as bullying or intimidation. It can happen faster than lightening strikes an iron rod in an electric storm. When stress or negativity shoot down the best ideas, and innovators wonder whether it’s a lot less stressful to hang up their cleats in favor of doing bare routines, tone tactics act like a vehicle to tug innovation back into play. It helps to invite an example of good tone from a gentle, and effective leader, and discuss how to offer olive branches back and forth at work. Or why not ask trusted peers what tone they hear in your words and compare their responses to what your words meant to convey.

  5. Start social network discussions. Watch what’s trending online and engage people you know in fun, hopeful or humorous responses. Recently I started a back-and-forth on Twitter to toss around insights and brain facts about multi-tasking as it affects innovation. We looked at research that shows how multi-tasking works against innovation because it bottle necks the brain’s ability to focus or innovate. Just as all brains wire differently though, we wanted to see how people view multi-tasking as it relates to their own innovation.  Social networks add new colors and textures to new neuron pathways because people hold up lived experiences to the rainbow for another look.

  6. Run from cynics. Skepticism, nay-saying and scorn faster than angry hornets, but you can risk new adventures or dance delightfully beyond their sting. How so? Have you noticed how stocks rise when people speak hope? Or have you seen financial markets nosedive when naysayers spout doom? Luckily pools of innovative brainpower lie beyond the sea of cynicism. This trend hinges on the fact that hope adds courage to spark curiosity and fuel the brain. Toxins, on the other hand, shut down originality, and increase fear of failure. Make sense? When cynics spread fear, brainpower shuts down before innovation stands a chance.  When creators spark curiosity imagination kicks into genius and another new neuron pathway is born.

Related tools: Find yearly planner with brain boosters and prompts to reboot your brain so that you tap and develop hidden and unused capabilities over at my TpT site.

For G.K. Chesterton, “The true object of all human life is play.” For you?

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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset