6 TED Talks That Reinforce the Importance of Play

Children at play

Guest Blogger, Jennifer Cantis

Studies have shown how vital playfulness is to creativity, relaxation, and peace of mind.

Play is critical for a stable, more productive life experience.

Don’t believe me? Take some time to watch the following six TED Talks. Each will inspire you in different ways to get in touch with your inner-child spirit in order to tackle your adult problems. Whether its playful thinking or playful activities, the next time you’re stuck on a problem, try working through it by use of play!

Tim Brown: Tales of Creativity and Play

In Tim’s speech, he opens with an exercise where he has the audience draw a person in a seat next to them. The catch is that you only have thirty seconds to complete the drawings. As you can imagine, the exercise gets quite a few laughs from the audience. However, something else happens, too: Many people can be heard apologizing to the subject of their thirty-second artwork. “Sorry,” they say, often with a giggle. This is when Tim makes his first point.

“We fear the judgment of our peers,” Tim explains. “This fear is what causes us to be conservative in our thinking. So, we might have a wild idea, but we are afraid to share it with anybody else.” However, Tim points out that this fear does not hamper the creativity of children. Kids will proudly show off their scribbles to anyone willing to look. Unfortunately, as we go from childhood to adolescence and beyond, we become significantly more sensitive to the opinions of others.

Also, studies show that children who feel most secure tend to feel most free about their ability to be creative. Thus, isn’t it logical that employers strive to create this same sense of security in the workplace? Shouldn’t we work to promote environments that boost creativity to inspire our employees to produce innovative ideas?

As Tim points out, many of the most successful companies have appreciated and implemented this idea. These companies want their employees to think outside of the box. They want to empower them to take risks. For example, Google’s offices often look like a mix between the ultimate recess playground and an awesomely interesting museum! They want to encourage creativity in employees through play and environmental stimulation.

Another point Tim makes is the way adults try to categorize every item they come across. Adults tend to ask what an item is, “but kids are more engaged with open possibilities.” As Tim explains, “They will certainly ask ‘What is it?’, but they will also ask ‘What can I do with it?’” It is this question—What can I do with it?—that unlocks the creative possibilities. It is this question that we, as adults, do not ask enough!

Jay Silver: Change the World

Jay’s take on play also leans heavily toward creativity and innovation. In his speech, he largely focuses on the ability to turn everyday items into mind-blowing products and pieces of technology.

He explains that, as a kid, he realized a fact that would forever change his life. “I thought, okay, the way the world works can be changed. And it can be changed by me in these small ways!” He began taking man-made items that were designed for a specific purpose and began creating innovative ways the items could be used.

Later in life, Jay was inspired to start a maker movement. He gathered together a group of teens and encouraged them to go into the woods to see what they could create from the natural world around them. Very quickly, the kids began crafting cool pieces of art!


Erin McKean: Go Ahead, Make Up New Words!

Erin is a lexicographer, which means it is her job to add words to the dictionary. Erin explains, “My job is not to decide what a word is; that is your job. Everybody who speaks English decides, together, what’s a word and what’s not a word. Every language is just a group of people who decide to understand each other.”

During the talk, Erin explains that some people can get very uppity when society wants to create a new word. These people moan and groan, protesting about grammar issues and how a particular word makes no sense. However, this argument is false. As Erin points out, all words were made up by someone at some point in history. In her opinion, a world with more words is a greater place to live.

“Every word is a chance to express your idea and get your meaning across, and new words grab people’s attention. They get people to focus on what you’re saying and that gives you a better chance to get your meaning across.”

Feeling imaginative? Erin walks you through the six different types of words so you can create your own!

Arvind Gupta: Turning Trash into Toys for Learning

In his talk, Arvind promotes an eco-friendly form of play. He explains that earlier in his life he was living in a small village where they had a weekly bazaar. One week when he went, he bought several small items—mostly trinkets—that many would consider junk. One item he purchased was a cycle valve tube, which is essentially a thin rubber tube.

Quickly, he realized how simple it would be to cut small pieces of the tube off and attach matchsticks to the inside of the tube. The rubber’s flexibility would allow the tube to bend around the matchstick. With three matchsticks inside the tube, you could create a triangle, four a square, and so on.

Gupta takes his form of recycle play even further by using discarded items like CDs, magnets, batteries, and paperclips to make engines and turbines. He even does some amazing things with paper!

As Gupta explains, what you can build and do with everyday discarded items “is just limited by your own imagination.”


Steve Keil: A Manifesto for Play, for Bulgaria and Beyond

Concerned about the future well-being of Bulgaria, Steve pushes play as the way to create a greater future for his home country.

In his opinion, Bulgaria is too serious for its own good. Steve believes this is stifling creativity and innovation in his country. He uses multiple studies to show how play can improve the world, including Bulgaria.

Steve encourages a playful atmosphere in the workplace where you treat workers with trust and respect. “Play improves our work,” he explains. “It stimulates creativity. It increases openness to change. It improves our ability to learn. It provides a sense of purpose and mastery.” By introducing play to the workplace, productivity improves.

Charlie Todd: The Shared Experience of Absurdity

Charlie loves to shake things up. He started Improv Everywhere when he moved to New York City. He and his friends pull creative stunts in public places, all for the joy of bringing strangers together for a shared experience.

“One of the points of Improv Everywhere is to cause a scene in a public place that is a positive experience for other people. It’s a prank, but it’s a prank that gives people a great story to tell.”

Final Thoughts

These podcasters recognize play is just as important for adults as it is for kids. “We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up,” according to Scott G. Eberle, Ph.D., vice president for play studies at The Strong and editor of the American Journal of Play. Play is critical for creativity, problem-solving, and relationships.

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