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Be More Playful To Be Creative

Scarlett Johansson by Andy Gotts

How can being more playful help us be more creative?

Actor John Cleese (who has made a career of being playful in the “Monty Python” series and a number of movies) has referred to research by the late UC Berkeley psychologist Donald MacKinnon, who studied creativity in different groups of people.

His research looked at differences between highly creative architects and those with less ability or achievement. Cleese summarized the difference between the two groups:

“The more creative ones had a facility for switching into a more playful mode.”

From my article The Creative Personality: Both Smart and Naive.

[Photo: Scarlett Johansson by photographer Andy Gotts, from article: “Playful Celebrity Portraits Show Off the Goofy Sides of A-List Stars”.]

Psychologist and creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has noted “Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.”

From my article The Creative Personality: Playful and Disciplined.


In an article on this topic, KH Kim writes that “Young innovators’ interests in topics often start with a playful introduction to the topics in which they are instantly hooked.

Einstein on bike“For example, Albert’s father (Hermann Einstein) playfully introduced Albert Einstein to a compass at age five, and Steve’s neighbor (Larry Lang) playfully introduced Steve Jobs to a carbon microphone at age seven.”

She adds that “playfulness is one of the most critical attitudes” of innovators.

“Playfulness, approaching situations in an exploratory manner and seeing the lighter side of a challenge with a sense of humor, enables flexible thinking.”

She offers many suggestions to encourage this playful attitude, such as:

* Making it a daily ritual to relax and laugh by immersing yourself in fun activities.

* Identifying absurd or strange aspects in popular music, fashion, holidays, and current events.

* Decorate your work space with fun, lighthearted artifacts that make you smile or laugh.

* Incorporate playful elements in your presentations (e.g., adding humor to titles or descriptions, or using funny props, comic strips, or cartoons with funny caricatures and puns).

From her Creativity Post article Want To Innovate? Science Says, Be Playful!

Read more quotes of hers and see a video in my article Attitudes to be creative and more innovative.

KH Kim is Professor of Creativity & Innovation at the College of William & Mary, and author of The Creativity Challenge: How We Can Recapture American Innovation – in which she provides many more suggestions for enhancing creative thinking.


Writer Margarita Tartakovsky suggests playful ways to deal with our creativity-suppressing inner critic, such as:

“Make your inner critic into a silly-looking monster. Draw this monster.

“Any time your inner critic starts churning out critical comments, picture this silly monster, who’s filled with hot air, and really just afraid themselves.”

From Creative and Playful Ways to Cope with Your Inner Critic.

Diane Ackerman is a poet, essayist and naturalist who has taught at a number of universities, including Columbia and Cornell.

In her book Deep Play she talks about being able to “play anywhere that is set off from reality, whether it be a playground, a field, a church or a garage.

“Deep play doesn’t have to do with an activity, like shallow play. It has to do with attitude or an extraordinarily intense state…”

This is, she notes, a way to experience flow, which enhances creative expression.


Be More Playful To Be Creative

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2017). Be More Playful To Be Creative. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Jun 2017
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