For this post, I wanted to write something specifically for the Creatubbles community, so I asked on Twitter what might be the most important questions Creatubbles want to explore, and they quickly replied that “anything related to creativity, play(fulness) and global collaborations will be great!” Luckily and coincidentally, those are three of my favorite topics, so I thought: why not write a post that explores the connections between them? It’s a bit of a challenge, of course, since each is a complex phenomenon in their own right, but play is all about seeking out challenges, no?
We should probably begin with playfulness, which, to me, ties everything together. I’m not just talking about everything in this blog post, but in life. Despite a widespread assumption that play is detached from life and mostly for children, I would suggest the exact opposite is the case: play is an undercurrent running throughout our life, and it is for all of us. If you adopt and cultivate a playful attitude, it will change the world by changing the way you live in it. Playful people live in a more malleable world than the rest of us, simply because they know you can play with everything, and everything can be different (I also touched upon this in “The Play Paradigm”).
As for creativity, it is also about exploring how something in the world could be different and demonstrating this by developing some sort of (tangible or intangible) product. You go out into the world allow it to make its impressions on you, before you, by way of the creative process, and bring something new into existence. To be truly creative, you need to be able to step into and away from the world, to see it in a different light and to dare to challenge structures, traditions, habits and expectations. You also need the specific skills to create what you intend to create (be it drawing and doing visual art, making a movie, singing, dancing, coding, or developing a physical prototype), of course.
Collaboration, like play and creativity, is about participation and a shared negotiation rather than just doing what somebody else tells you. As you know, a very big part of play is negotiating the purpose, rules and roles and everybody wants a say in this if play is to feel right. When I mention participation, I insist that it must be real, meaning that decision making and power must be shared. If you can’t influence the situation you’re in, you can’t participate. (I wrote about that in “Play as Participation”).
To collaborate with someone, stranger or not, towards a shared goal, you need to define that goal together. You also need to understand and respect how people are different, and how it is thus futile to expect us to act in the same ways, and contribute with the same things throughout the collaboration process. In fact, it is understanding these differences, and our individual strengths and weaknesses, that is the foundation for working together and creating something none of us could have done alone.
Global collaboration is essentially the same as collaboration, of course, but with an added layer of complexity. When you reach out of your immediate surroundings and your local community, you are immediately faced with the challenges of communicating across all sorts of cultural barriers that you may or may not know about. How do you work with someone who feels completely alien to you – and vice versa? You need to look for what you have in common, and one thing that is shared by all humans and some animals (until they unlearn, at least) is the desire to play. I was again reminded about this by Clay Mazing from Emergency Circus, who travels the world to bring playful joy to those in need. Clay insists that “we all laugh in the same language,” and his stories from refugee camps around Europe surely support this claim:
What I have learned from running the CounterPlay festival, is that this is both fairly straightforward and almost impossibly complicated at the same time. When you succeed in creating a safe space for strangers to meet and engage with each other through play, most of the barriers are reduced or fall away completely. When it happens, it’s like magic. The hard part is creating the environment and atmosphere, where people dare to participate in play.
The argument I’m trying to make could be summed up as follows: playfulness is a way of being in the world that fuels your imagination and inspires you to think differently. Allowing yourself to play with the world is an essential catalyst of creativity; you can hardly be creative without being playful. At the same time, play breaks down cultural barriers and creates deep connections between people, which is fundamental for global collaboration.
In short, playfulness is the key.
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