More Proof that Play Unlocks Innovation

by | Feb 24, 2016 | #PlayMoreMN, Critical Thinking |

Minnesota Children’s Museum hosted our second Pints & Play event on Tuesday evening at Bauhaus Brew Labs in northeast Minneapolis – and ran a fun experiment.

Here’s how:

  • We split people into two groups and gave each a set of Rigamajig building materials (wooden slats, wheels, rope and various connectors).
  • Group A was given directions about what to build (a shopping cart) and how to begin (start with the wheels). A facilitator stood by and occasionally interjected suggestions.
  • Group B was told: “These are Rigamajigs. Explore and have fun.” The facilitator stood by and said little, aside from asking “What are you trying to do?” and “What have you tried so far?”
  • After 20 minutes, we asked both groups to halt the activity.

Group A couldn’t stop – they hurried to put on a few finishing touches. Then they wheeled out their shopping cart.

On the other side of the brewpub, Group B stood by their creation – a four-wheeled vehicle with a curved front end that looked a little like the Starship Enterprise.

Then we asked people about their experience. Those in Group A, the one given direction and a specific task to achieve, reported feeling some pressure about doing things the right way and some anxiety about whether they’d meet the stated goal.

Sounds a bit more like work than play, right?

The members of Group B talked about how they were a little confused at the beginning, but then just jumped in and started experimenting with the various materials. The group naturally split up into smaller groups, with one building a contraption that looked like the letter A on wheels and the other creating something that looked like a spaceship.

At the last minute, they looked at their creations and said, “Why don’t we just put these together?” In the end, they said they just went with the flow and got into the spirit of simply having fun.

This experiment is not new. Numerous research studies show consistent results: People given freedom to explore and experiment invariably come up with more creative and unexpected outcomes – and have more fun along the way – than those who are saddled with directions and external expectations.

The lesson is a testament to the power of play – and is one of the reasons the Museum is urging our entire community to embrace play via the #PlayMoreMN movement. When we play more, we thrive as a happier, healthier and more innovative community.

Join us for the next Pints & Play event on March 24 at Flat Earth Brewing Company in St. Paul.

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