TED Talk: Creativity & Play

Great presentation from the TED Talks.

Tim Brown: The powerful link between creativity and play

Talked about the need to engage in:

  • playful exploration
  • playful building
  • playful roleplaying
  • Started with an exercise – asked the audience to take 30 seconds to draw a picture of the person sitting next to them. The audience was full of laughter and lots of apologies for their efforts.  His point was that adults are worried about being judged for their ideas, while kids doing this same sort of exercise don’t apologize, they’re proud of their creativity.
  • To be creative as adults, we need the security to takes risks, security to play.
  • Mentioned a colleague who, when forming a company, sought to find employees who would be like best friends. To build the sense of trust. Friendship is a shortcut to play, the security that allows us to take creative risks.
  • Why is playfulness important? It helps get to creative solutions, and do our jobs better.


  • Adults see something new and try to stick it into some sort of category of what we already know, limits the possibilities that we see.
  • Kids see something new and ask “what can i do with this?” They’re engaged in open, exploratory play.
  • So why have rules for brainstorming sessions?  Brainstorming ‘rules’ seem counter-intuitive, but it’s hard to break our adult habits of limiting ourselves and others.  It helps to have those ‘rules’ to help break us out of habits – eg:  make no judgments toss out lots of ideas, etc.

I think that In the best of situations, the rules aren’t needed, when there is already trust between peers. This reminds me of some of the best group projects/committees that I was ever part of.  We made some challenging things happen through trust, fun and creativity.  Through building on each others ideas, trusting that we could propose crazy ideas, insuring that we looked at things from lots of perspectives.  And it all happened because we liked, respected and trusted each other.

In our libraries (and all organizations!) we need leaders who can create an atmosphere of trust, so we can play and be creative. And anyone on staff can be a leader! It doesn’t have to be from the top down, though that sure would be ideal. Though I’m not sure how long people can remain creative if it’s actively disapproved of.


  • What is it? Using objects around us to quickly prototype real world tools. This helps to communicate ideas and experience. Thinking with your hands.


  • Acting out scenarios. In library settings this might be around customer service issues when we’re developing new services. What will it really be like for the customer.
  • Roleplaying helps us develop empathy for customers, users.
  • And helps design experiences that work.

Lots of terrific ideas for us to put to use in our work in designing services that work and solving problems in our libraries.