“PLAY is the highest form of research” – Albert Einstein

It is quite unlikely to read an article or open a newspaper without reading about Digital Transformation and how it can improve customer experience, increase revenue streams, empower your employees and improve operations.

Technology and the way we use it in our personal lives, work and society is changing the face of business and will continue to do so. The pace at which this is happening is accelerating significantly and is much faster than the pace of transformation in most organizations, with as an implication that the risk to become obsolete is there, more so than ever before.

To put it in a different, positive perspective, there is a significant opportunity to innovate and change the game and align the industry and market trends in a beautiful way to your mission and drive relevance. Learning from new born competition, changing value chains and expectations of your customers should be a constant by now.

The question is: what is needed to embrace this opportunity, proudly build the future, learning from others, taking risks and innovate?

I hear you think: It is so easily said, “Put your customer in the center, optimize your operations and innovate on your businessmodel. But HOW? How to find or invent and create that competitive advantage?”

A very good question, since this is quite difficult and like Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

There are a couple of success factors which are key to drive this change and a very important one is creativity, since creativity helps you to be different. But how do we activate creativity, unleash the real imagination of our people in our organization?

When I was thinking about this, I was sitting in my garden, enjoying watching my eight year old, Chris.

Chris was playing with a little camera, making little videos of everything and if I say everything, I mean everything. While making these video’s he was trying out new things, improvising, using all possible perspectives, working with all elements in space, using hight, speed, vibration, introducing role plays, asking his brother and me to join him and last but not least using a lot of humor.

He was not busy with right or wrong or with a certain desired outcome, his attention was fully in the moment, enjoying playing with the technology and what he could achieve with it, discovering the impact using the camera in combination with other toys and tools and playing together with others, using his unlimited imagination.

After two hours of playing around, he went inside. I did not see him for an hour, so I went looking for him and I found him behind my Surface laptop and I asked him what he was doing. He said that he had an idea and that he was checking on the internet the best way to make it work and if he could even make it better.

I was very fascinated by him and asked about his idea.

Mam, he said, I am going to create a channel where I can post videos of Daniel (his big brother), he is a great gymnast. I am going to make videos of him, teaching all children who want to become a great gymnast themselves how to learn all floor, still rings, vault, horizontal and parallel bars exercises and make him a big hero. Not only taking video’s in steps, from warming ups to the complete exercise, but also Daniel wearing the camera on his head in a way that everyone can feel what it is to make such moves and perform these exercises and last but not least create bonus material for people who would subscribe to his channel, like the making of with bloopers and fun video’s with stunts which the children should not try at home, because it is exclusive for the real “Master”.

I asked, so your aim is to teach everyone how to become a great gymnast, like Daniel, with this camera? “No Mam….”, he said, “..my aim is make Daniel famous with this camera and I am his manager.”

Our “grownup” way of trying out new things is that we start with the thinking first and tend to judge and censor ourselves led by our biases, using these without making mistakes. In this case it would mean we would create a nice “perfect” video and with that limiting ourselves for the optimal opportunity to discover this camera, learn new things and open the room for new potential.

Looking closer at the two, my analysis is that children play anywhere anyplace anytime, connect and discover the world while we, the grownups, actually do not see and use every opportunity to learn and come to new ideas or creations. We start when there is a need for change. When this is the case a brainstorm is being planned where most of the time is spend on analyzing data and talking.

Creativity, however, is a complex mental process. Where the first part of this mental process is done in the right hemisphere of the brain, which is playing, experimental learning, visualizing, integrating with other ideas and ultimately developing possible solutions. In other words the abstract parts, which has less to do with knowlegde. After this first part has taken place, the connection is made to data, diagnosing the idea to determine whether it solves the real problem, making use of our rational processes, analysis and logic and if so, how to implement it.

This mental process in your brain, like all mental processes, are like muscles, which needs to be trained. So creativity, especially the first part, needs to be trained on a regular basis to unleash the potential and go beyond the obvious. This is the only way to change with impact at the speed needed.

So we need to introduce playing on a regular basis in our processes and business rhythm to maintain the right creative, learning environment, an environment with enough room to play to be prepared to start changes anytime. An environment in which people try things on and try things out, improvise, make things, taking on new roles, imagining what would happen if we possessed new capabilities or behaved differently, playing alone as individual, playing together with another person or in a team, or in competition and ..an environment where you throw away what doesn’t work and build on what does.

There’s no special sauce for creativity, it’s a mindset, which needs to be deployed and trained throughout the organization.

I love to spend time on building new ideas, but the question is: do I play enough to deliver the ideas at the right moment with the best value add?

I went to my agenda and saw that the last time I played was a couple of weeks ago, introducing a rolepay (with revenue, investments, budget and assignments) to really understand and feel how we work together as a team and as a side effect create ideas how to innovate by changing factors, introducing other “players” and as a result boost the impact of the team.

Honestly I can use more and do better, I need to train that creativity muscle. Especially since my learning is that everytime I introduce plays, it is highly effective and creating a lot of new insights and energy.

The promise to myself is that I will start from of today by embedding playing in my own workweek and in my team.

I am also very curious and like to learn from others. So here is my question to you:

When was the last time you played at work? Do you remember? What was the impact? And how do you keep it up?

Isabel Moll

Senior Business Group Lead Cloud & Enterprise Microsoft