The study, led by Prof Babis Mainemelis and Sarah Ronson, highlights two ways in which play can induce creativity. First, play should be a form of engagement which can encourage the motivational processes at the heart of creativity. Second, play should be a form of diversion from work, which will foster creativity in a peripheral way (getting out of the predictable framework).
Stimulating creativity is essential for businesses to stay fresh and ahead of competition. It is at the heart of new products and processes, and provides a productive environment for its employees. Play, the researchers maintain, is the only behaviour which could lead to surprising and unexpected discoveries.
Mainemelis and Ronson argue that companies can nurture play in three ways: by creating a playful environment; by providing freedom, time and resources that allow employees to turn their work into play; and by delineating a dedicated framework in which employees feel safe to experiment with ideas that may not at first seem relevant to the business's core activities.
Companies like IDEO and Pixar for instance have set up very playful environments, while Google, Gore and 3M encourage people to use 20% of their time to play with new, even strange, ideas. Gore's Elixir non-breakable guitar wires were invented in a typical playful fashion. One of the company's engineers was trying to improve the gear cables of his mountain bike, which led him to wonder how he could use his findings to develop less brittle guitar strings.
After teaming up with Gore's Glide non-breakable dental floss engineer, an amateur musician colleague, and toying with the idea for three years, the team came up with Elixir. Gore now controls 35% of the acoustic guitar strings market, even though Gore has nothing to do with the music business.
The paper will be published in Research in Organizational Behavior in August 2006.
Review by Emilie Filou