Reading a very interesting book recently, I came across this passage:
In this task (the candle problem), research participants are given a small candle, a book of matches, and a box of tacks and are asked to attach the candle to a bulletin board in a way that the candle can be lit and will burn properly. They are allowed to use no objects other than those they are given. The trick to solving the problem is to realize that the tacks can be dumped out of the box and the box can then be tacked to the bulletin board and used as a shelf on which to mount the candle. In the typical test situation, most people, including students at elite colleges, fail to solve this problem within the allotted time period. They fail to see that the tack box can be used for something other than a container for tacks. In Isen’s experiment, some of the college student participants watched a five-minute clip from a slapstick comedy film before being presented with the candle problem. A second group saw a five-minute serious film about mathematics, and a third group saw no film. The results were dramatic. Seventy-five percent of the students who saw the comedy, compared to only 20 percent and 13 percent of the students in the other two groups, respectively, solved the problem successfully. Just five minutes of humor, which had nothing to do with the candle problem, made the problem solvable for the majority of participants.
This is a powerful illustration of something that seems counter-intuitive at first, but upon reflection we actually observe it all the time: playfulness opens up creativity and possibility. Consider the difference between a music recital or graded performance and playing around on the keyboard at home. The former may (if you’ve practiced) be more precise, but which is likely to be more creative?
We face myriad new challenges everyday, whether starting a business or just working in one. There aren’t always rule books and guides because some of the problems haven’t occurred before. It can be tough for really driven, hard-working people to enter a playful state to solve problems. I think it’s primarily because of the false dichotomy between work and play we’ve grown up with. There’s no reason being playful has to mean not working hard or vice-versa. Playfulness doesn’t have to mean unseriousness about the task at hand.
Watch a child playing with blocks and you’ll see imagination and joy, but also deep concentration and effort. Imagine an artist working hours into the night, sweating as they craft or compose. They’re working hard. They’re serious about their product. They’re also playing.
Treat obstacles as games and have some fun.