Why so serious? What playful thinking can do for you

This week’s spotlight: all things play.


This silly face courtesy of Flickr user Philip Dean via Creative Commons

If your last brainswarm left you with a yellow notepad full of wild ideas, don’t chuck them in the recycling can quite yet. You might be closer to a great new program idea or creative fundraising solution than you think.

According to the minds behind the leading design innovation firm IDEO, the ridiculous ideas we get from uninhibited playful thinking come hand in hand with brilliant ones.

Brendan Boyle is a partner and toy lab leader at IDEO and promotes creative entrepreneurialism around the world. Joe Wilcox, a former circus performer and kinetic sculptor, is one of IDEO’s top toy inventors.

In a recent 99U article, they talked about the importance of play for generating fresh ideas:

Brendan: This is a quote from Stewart Brown, who is founder of the National Institute for Play, “Most people think that the opposite of play is work (especially in the corporate world) but the opposite is boredom or even depression.” To me, play is what you’re passionate about doing. You want to do it because it’s enjoyable and you want to keep doing it because it brings you joy. But play is a ton of effort.

Big innovation is right on the edge of ridiculous ideas. You need an environment that isn’t quite so judgmental about a ridiculous idea. Sometimes those are the ones that are so close to being the brilliant ones. If a space that allows for play can help encourage those types of ideas than you’ll come up with some possibly ridiculous but potentially groundbreaking ideas.

Joe: Those skeptics are in every walk of life. You can certainly combat it [by trying out] the experimenter role. Show people it’s possible, don’t just tell them. It’s always been the seemingly improbable, boundary-pushing ideas that have created this world around us and none of that would have been possible if they’d listened to all the people who said it never would have worked. We’d still be living in caves if we relied on the skeptics.

So hang on tight, buckle your safety belt, and don’t be afraid to get a little silly with your ideas. You never know what you’ll come up with.


What’s your favorite ridiculous idea that ended up being great?


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Lessons on being creative from highly creative people


Photo credit: Leszek Glasner, Shutterstock

Fast Company recently highlighted its top 100 Creative People in Business, including Nate Silver, Scott Harrison, and actors Bryan Cranston and Connie Britton. (Also Michelle Rowley, who we recently featured on our blog.)

The site went one step further, teasing out five habits that several of these creative people discussed—and what we can learn from them. Here are a few that stood out to us:

Max Levchin: Always be asking questions

We talked to PayPal founder Max Levchin about how he keeps snagging startup ideas. Turns out it’s a lot about controlling chaos in ways we’ve discussed about why ideas come at random and why you need to document everything.

Levchin’s method is like this: He talks to tons of random creative people, asks them questions about their craft, takes extensive notes of their quandaries, and then compiles–and reviews–all of his research. What comes out of it? Companies–like his new mobile payment solution Affirm–and loads of paper. Dude has a crate of 200 legal pads sitting in his garage.

Kendrick Lamar: Be an example

What’s it take to make what many consider the best rap album of the decade? Kendrick Lamar unpacked a bit of the origin of his miraculous good kid, m.A.A.d City: he grew up in Compton, the California city that cradled gangster rap and serves as his inspiration.

“There are so many thoughts of being scared of failure when you’re trying something there,” he said. “And that’s what holds a lot of people back–when you’re stuck in this position, when you’re constantly seeing negative things and you want to do something positive but you’re scared that it might not work. I believed I could make an example for those around me–once I did and I started seeing some type of results, it made me believe I could represent the whole city.”

Creativity plays an important role in changing the world, as nonprofits and social entrepreneurs must be creative in their funding and outreach, collaborate with others working toward the same goal, and work toward constant innovation when it comes to solving the world’s problems.

How do you harness your creativity when you’re bringing your ideas to life?

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Action Alert: Olivia’s Art for Animals

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

Olivia Pedrick’s kitchen table is splattered with paint of every hue.

Every weekend, the 12-year-old sits down at her table in Ashland, New York and paints pictures of animals for family, friends, and random strangers.

“I really do like turtles and dogs. Turtles are a lot of fun to paint because you can add so many different kind of greens,” she says. “I like painting dogs because of the shading.”


Olivia with some recent paintings. Her favorite one of all time is one of her and her dog Miller, which was a Christmas gift for her parents. (Photo via Anabel Lago-Pedrick.)

Customers pay her $10 per painting, or more if they’d like, and the money goes to an animal charity of her choice. Right now, Olivia’s waiting list is three months long.

Olivia, who’s been painting since she was four years old, thought of the idea after seeing a woman from a local wildlife rehab center speak as part of the Kindness and Caring club at school. She loves art as much as she loves animals, especially dogs, and brainstormed with her mom Anabel ways she could help out.

She started by selling paintings at a local town event. In one afternoon she sold them all, and her mom set up a Facebook page shortly after.

Anabel takes care of the logistics – managing everything from her web presence to choice of charities – to give Olivia freedom to paint.

Still, finding the time can be a challenge for Olivia, who is also involved in Girl Scouts, karate, skiing and more in addition to having heaps of homework to do. School vacations and summers are when she gets the most amount of painting done.

“It’s a lot of work. But it’s totally worth it,” Olivia says.

Since she started two years ago, Olivia has made 70 paintings and donated over $6,000 to charities. She’s also inspired a girl in the Netherlands to undertake a similar project, and a few friends from school have said they’ve wanted to do it, too.

As to how long Olivia will continue to paint to help animals, she doesn’t even need to think twice about the answer.

“My whole life,” she says. “Definitely.”


Want to use your creative skills for good or know a youth in your life who does? Feel free to contact Anabel Lago-Pedrick, Olivia’s mom, for tips and advice on how to get a project like Olivia’s Art for Animals going.

Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email celeste@idealist.org.


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