If you want to develop the potential of a new idea, learn to play in the moment.
Having a new idea is not enough. You have to know what to do with it.
Long before any formal testing begins, you must nurture that idea and develop its possibilities. Only then will that small, new idea get the chance to grow into something that could be valuable.
This is why innovative companies place a high value on play, for the state of play is ideal for exploring and elaborating possibility.
Sadly, many organizations seem almost deliberately designed to kill a state of play. They are structured in inherently restrictive ways, with rigid hierarchies, over-scheduled calendars, and strong divisional boundaries (“silos”). They are dominated by short-term strategic concerns, inflexible goals, and a rush to the bottom line. And their cultures are rife with innovation-killing, death-to-design attitudes such as cynicism, pride, and fear of failure.
Experiencing the state of play, however, requires letting go of all such restrictions: letting go of rigidity to embrace flexibility, letting go of fear to embrace trust, letting go of divisional boundaries to find synergies, and letting go of outcomes — at least temporarily — to embrace pure process.
In other words, instead of charging bullishly toward your goals, or burying your head in a spreadsheet, or crossing your arms, digging in your heels, and muttering under your breath, you must take some time, from time to time, to play with possibility.
Yes, there will be a time for a more careful, sober evaluation of the options. A time when decision-making will be necessary. A time for the bottom line. But if you want to develop the true potential of a new idea, first learn how to play. This means being free and spontaneous enough to explore what is arising in the moment.
In a state of deep play, you let yourself go. Not worrying about time, you indulge your curiosity. You loosen the reins on creativity and let yourself get lost in the pleasure of discovery. You don’t stop to judge. You keep going, and going, and going.
When you are immersed in a state of play, like a child playing with blocks, you just stack things in a different way and then let yourself be surprised and maybe delighted by what results. Like a jazz musician, you improvise.
This is a very special case of being in the moment. If you are new to it, the experience can be intense, overwhelming, frustrating, ecstatic. It is almost guaranteed to be mind-blowing. And if you want to experience it fully, it might require some special training or support.
One of the most efficient ways to boost your ability to experience the state of play–strange though this may seem–is by learning to meditate, for meditation enhances your ability to be in the moment. It helps you develop a “beginner’s mind.”
Fear not: a “beginner’s mind” does not mean forgetting all those useful things you learned while climbing to the top of the ladder. Rather, it means having the ability to approach each moment without preconceptions or judgment — for a real expert appreciates the need, every so often, to suspend expertise.
In other words, because each moment is new, and each moment has potential, the truly wise greet the next moment with a spirit of curiosity. Perhaps this is why many great meditation masters seem so youthful — because they approach the next moment in a spirit of play.
It is critical that you, as a leader, can access this state of mind and foster it in others, at least to some extent. For, what is a leader if not a person who can imagine more? And yet so many leaders, trained in business schools originally designed for engineers, have no idea how to be “imagineers.” They have no idea how to explore what might be possible.
But imagine how you, as a leader, could make even meetings more productive and more exciting if you simply had the presence of mind to say, “This idea needs a bit more room to breathe. Let’s take a few minutes to play with some possibilities, and open up some options.” Imagine how much more innovative — and vibrant — your workplace would be if each week included some opportunity for the unconstrained exploration of new ideas.
Ultimately, the state of play gives you the ability to be spontaneous and the permission to follow your fascination with what is emerging right now. It is one of the deepest possible experiences of being in the moment, and is probably the most essential quality to have if you really want to innovate.
So, when you do get a hunch that a new idea might just have some value, please give yourself the time and space to play with it. Spend a little time in the moment.
Read the next article in this series: Unleash Momentum