Have we put a pause on play?

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By Sheryl Thompson - Creative Director, Union Direct

Let’s start by rewinding to when I started my career. We are talking about the time when you still had to post work to clients (or fax if we were on a tight deadline). Once that work was in the hands of the Royal Mail you had a bit of a breather to start your next job and play around with ideas whilst you waited for the clients to feedback via pigeon carrier.

Fast forward to today and life has accelerated to break-neck speed and there’s a lot of distractions. *Searches ‘baby goats’ on Insta*

We’re hybrid working, we’re trying to make sure everyone feels connected, we’re trying to keep up with changing demands. Everything is moving at such a rapid rate that you need to be a sprinter to keep up.

So when I pose that we should be pressing pause on all of this to be able to make sure there is time to play around with creative ideas, I don’t blame you for thinking that is asking for the impossible.

But let’s not forget creativity is a craft. It’s built around exploring and you will never be able to craft an amazing idea if you are only given two seconds to explore all the possibilities. So even when it feels like everything is going against you, it’s important to still find a way to carve out time for it.

So, whether you are creative yourself or you are involved with getting the best out of creative people, here are my top tips of ways to play (even when there is a need to fast forward to the idea).

But why though?

Just because the timings are tighter than a cat in a vase, don’t ever let that stop you asking why. Really stopping to think why things are the way they are can really challenge the way you think about problems.

Why is the word milk the second biggest thing on the carton – you know its milk?

Why don’t you have one queue instead of 5 so no one gets stuck in the slow one?

Why dont they put gas tanks on both sides of the car?
Jack Foster – How to get ideas.

Asking why instantly gives you a reason to play. And sure it can lead you off on tangents, but if you can solve your creative problem at the same time as finding out why we are obsessed with what came first, surely that’s a win-win? (It’s the egg obvs).

This is shit… but

A well known phrase between creative partner’s. An invitation to play whilst protecting ourselves from potentially having a thought that shouldn’t have been aired.

But an idea shared, is an idea waiting to be built on. So leave your inhibitions at the door and make sure you are comfortable enough with your peers to share the good and the bad. All thoughts can be a thread to something brilliant so don’t keep it bottled in, play with it.

Enter a flow state

Now this might not fit comfortably with everyone, especially when you have got folk asking you how you are getting on with a job, but turn everything off. I mean everything (well not your brain, that’s going to come in handy for this one). Turn off your notifications, put your phone on silent, lock it in a drawer if you need to.

It’s not easy to do when you are juggling more than a clown at the circus. But be intentional with your time, block yourself out for 30, 60, 90, 120 minutes, whatever you can afford. Then allow yourself to slip into a flow state or, as writer Cal Newport calls it, ‘deep work’. A state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capacities to the limit.

One wee caveat: you might find this works very well indeed and totally forget you actually have meetings booked in. So an alarm comes in very handy…

Embrace the hypnopompic

We often try to give ideas the overnight test, leaving them to settle to see how they feel in the morning.

But sometimes there is even a better reason to sleep on an idea.

Hypnopompic is more than just a wonderful word, it’s something we can all do, without even trying, you can literally do it in your sleep!

According to research, we are at our creative best shortly after we wake up. And tackling creative work as soon as we wake is a technique used by many writers and inventors.

And the simple reason for this is, when we sleep, we dream. When we dream we create connections between unconnected things. So when we are first waking up, we’re in a hypnopompic (a daydream-like) state. This is when our brain allows us to connect the unconnectable, resulting in weird and wonderful original combinations that could form a bright, bold idea.

As the day progresses, our waking consciousness takes over, bringing us back to reality and not allowing our brain to connect things that don’t make immediate sense

So you can harness this hypnopompic state for idea generation. Just remember a notebook beside the bed, otherwise you might have forgotten the idea after brushing your teeth.

And finally, if none of that works…

Do sweet FA

When was the last time you did nothing? And I mean totally nothing?

Not doom scrolling. Not listening to the radio. Not sorting your tea.

We’ve lost the art of doing nothing. Either our phones are super glued to us or we feel we don’t have time to do just nothing.

But doing nothing isn’t nothing. It’s unconscious processing.

It’s giving your brain permission to wander without the pressure of getting to a destination. It’s why so many ideas are conjured up in the shower, or on the loo.

The idea of doing nothing when you have a deadline looming feels impossible. But it feels that way because we make it impossible. We are slaves to never having any time, but cashing on in the vain hope that an idea will magically form. From experience, giving yourself permission to play can make the idea come quicker than if you blindly stumble on until your brain has nothing left to give.

So, in conclusion, get up, get out, go to the loo, have a shower, stop what you are doing, grab someone and invite them to play with a “this might be shit, but…”.

Because believe me, five minutes of play is better than a constipated idea anyday.

Want to know more about how we play hard? Get in touch.