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Getting Serious About Playtime

We’re going to need a bigger sandbox.

Research has affirmed that play time is important for adults overall sense of well-being, both mental and physical. But at our recent leadership conference, where we intentionally included time to play, I again experienced the joy of living and learning in the moment. Children learn best through creative play and — no surprise here — so do grownups. A friend reminded me of something the late Dr. Karyn Purvis noted, that “it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it takes only 10 to 20 repetitions.” Play is a superpower we need to rediscover.

At the conference, we listened to Damian Kulash talk about the importance of play in finding innovative solutions in his work with the band OK Go and on other projects. He talked about his own creative process, which includes finding (discovering, defining, creating) the right sandbox to play in. The sandbox could be a physical space, like a zero-gravity vomit comet, or an intellectual space, like the time-lapse images that can be experienced when applying math and video technology to slow down 4.2 seconds of video in order to reveal an elaborate 4 minutes of precisely choreographed wonder. (He literally charted each fraction-of-a-second scene on an excel sheet.)

Personally, I find that when I take time to play, and free my intellect from the rigors of task-based activity, it opens a window in my brain that lets me see things from a fresh angle. Kind of the way a child finds wonder in things that adults forget to look for. But as Damian Kulash observed, it helps when we can find the right sandbox.

That’s why a portion of our conference was staged at the amazing JUMP venue in Boise. They have a number of dedicated studios, including a fully equipped maker space where you can create simple things, like a bag tag, or awesome things, like a tiny catapult.  After enjoying their amazing facility, some of us chose to exit the 5th floor using a corkscrewed tube slide. It was much faster and way more fun than the elevator we rode up on. I won’t pretend that I discovered an amazing insight on the way down. But I’m sure it gave me a fresh outlook on everything else I experienced that day.

In the events industry it is critical that we seize the opportunity to create playful learning opportunities. Not just because it’s more fun, but because we know it’s more effective. Technology is opening new and better ways to design and execute adult pedagogy both for in-person and virtual learning. So, whether the sandboxes we build are 3D IRL or digital MMORPG, we can open ourselves up to new ideas, new approaches, and the sheer joy of discovery.

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