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In 1997 a lone bottlenose dolphin was observed generating bubbles to drive fish to the surface so it could more easily catch them. Prior to this there were only three sea mammal species that were known to use this hunting technique. Dolphins are well known for their playful nature and a common form of play is bubble rings, which they create for themselves through their blowholes. The lone bottlenose dolphin was demonstrating its creative abilities by adapting its bubble play behaviours to create a novel hunting solution.

The act of play has been observed and researched extensively across a wide range of animals – including humans. Research suggests that playfulness is an important developer of creative ability.

Researchers in the UK recently conducted a survey, which investigated how people think about themselves. The people who characterised themselves as playful also thought of themselves as creative, and this self-assessment was validated with a creativity test. Those who thought of themselves as playful performed significantly better compared to those who thought of themselves as less playful.

From a psychology perspective, play is generally categorised as non-serious activities that have no obvious application. You know if you are being playful if you’re having fun, acting spontaneously, in a positive mood and are intrinsically motivated – so you are not relying on a result or a reward.

Play will bring you into contact with a range of different experiences that can be relevant to solving a problem with a novel solution at a later time – just like the bottlenose dolphin. Playfulness also creates conditions where you are free to experience situations beyond what you normally would in everyday life.

Us adults typically play less than children, so if you want to increase your playfulness to support your creative abilities, here are some suggestions:

  • If you have kids – play more with them! It could be anything from a rough-and-tumble to an imaginary game that engages your playfulness.
  • Find time to have a joke with your colleagues – we often get caught up on pressing deadlines and forget to have fun.
  • Get on top of your bad moods and stress as these aspects limit the oppotunity for playfulness to spontaneously occur.

I’d love to hear your experiences, comments or questions about this topic! Feel free to contact me at [email protected] or @projectbarclay