As a new contributor to the Let’s Play Innovation! blog, I thought I’d introduce myself and my work – and perhaps endeavour to define how we engage play in places where it is not traditionally found.
For the last six years, I have run a design think tank and creative agency called archiTEXT – a company I founded with the intention of using design as an active tool, as an applied tool for fostering innovation and broad social impact. What has been perhaps the most fascinating discovery along the journey of building a company has been how our growth can be attributed significantly to the workplace innovation that we have fostered internally – that innovation being heavily focused on play. When we say play, we mean play. Toys, paint, games, color, movement, crafts – pure play. Our process internally for developing new ideas is very much about moving our team into a place where they can be their most creative, honest, and trusting selves in order to foster an environment that is conducive to innovation. We see play as the tool that is accessible to all that can bring people to those spaces where they can truly ideate.
An example of this has been a process we call “Grapes+Chips” – a Friday afternoon activity where all members of staff provide a form of “grape” and a form of “chip” to feed the team – and one member of the staff designs a playful intervention into the city that explores how to best engage citizens of Toronto with their creativity. Examples have been drawing hopscotches down 5th Avenue and in Union Square in New York City, filling cracks in buildings with Lego, and putting word searches up with markers at subway stations to help people pass time. What’s fascinating about Grapes+Chips is that it has informed our processes that we apply when introducing Creativity, Play, and Design Thinking into facilitation and innovation projects that we are involved in. For example, over the last two years we have been involved with engaging Play and Design Thinking into government processes in Canada at the Provincial and Federal level. One of our more recent projects was introducing play into a visioning exercise for a Ministry at the Provincial level that was restructuring its internal team. The day was focused on facilitating the entire staff through a collective visioning using prototyping, but before they could get to that, we needed to move them into a space where they were more open to thinking as broadly as possible. It was an activity we designed through Grapes+Chips on a Friday afternoon in the summer when it was too hot to be outside that we used with the Ministry team. The activity used 6 chairs, 10 staff, and a ball of yarn that we – relatively uninspired that day – started tossing around the studio lounge. About 45 minutes later, with all ten staff successfully tangled in a ball of yarn (and laughing hysterically) we had designed a network connectivity exercise that we have now used in several projects.
In our work we have learned three very key lessons:
1. Play is not easy.
2. Play is necessary.
3. Play is not FRIVOLOUS.
The notion that at a certain point when we are adolescents begin to hear “stop playing and get back to work” – that play becomes transgressive – is an idea that we at archiTEXT continue to challenge as we experiment with play in the government, corporate, and charitable sectors.
Play is the purest and simplest mechanism for innovation – it’s brainstorming, rapid prototyping, and evaluation all in an accessible, simple form – and perhaps the key to bringing great ideas to life.