The Fun Theory

In one of my favorite reads this last year, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, author Stuart Brown talks about play as “an un-realized power that can transform our social and economic lives.”

As I read, I realized:
– We have replaced play with homework–big mistake
– Play is how our passions find us
– Play is where happiness finds us, and
– Play is where failure isn’t failure and isn’t emotionally charged. Play is all about iteration and we iterate on the emerging questions that arise from within us and that we are driven to understand.

Some of the most accomplished people I’ve met–Dean Kamen, Roderick MacKinnon, Charles Zuker, and Nathan Myhrvold–talk about their work as play. When I ask them how they played as children, they often describe activities that explore the same questions and ideas they are exploring today in their work. At a gathering of molecular scientists, more than a few whispered that, as children, they’d electrocuted bugs–they had to know what would happen. Interaction, reaction. One of them told me that his MBA sister had a chemistry set that looked as if it had never been used, while his was trashed shortly after he opened it. He tried everything.

Recently, VW launched a campaign, The Fun Theory. The videos on the site show people:
– Choosing stairs over an escalator in a subway station when the stairs are turned into piano keys
– Recycling glass when the glass recycle bin is like a slot machine, and
– Clearing litter when a trash can offers sound effects as trash is pitched in.

The Fun Theory Award competition is accepting entries until November 15. Short window, competition opened October 1. Radar readers are brainy and creative. A winning combination!

tags: , ,
  • Glad I found your article. You’re spot on, too. I remember my little brother totally dismantling a wind up clock. Mom was having a fit over it, asking what he did it for. He wouldn’t answer her, but when I later asked him he said, “How else am I supposed to know what makes it work.” He’s becoming something of a scientific genius now. Shame I didn’t get that side of the gene pool, but at least someone in the family did. Can’t wait to see what he does in the future. Claims he wants to be a game designer or biochemical engineer. Scares me.

  • Actually I have been consistently talking about it on my blog. And I talk about it in a much deeper and systemic way.

    You can check out the following essay. It includes links to many posts I had regarding my whole system of thinking on this.

  • Great post! These concepts are incredibly important, particularly with regard to education. Play is an important part of understanding what motivates and stimulates us, which is the key to learning.

  • Exactly. Play, learn, and create are the three sole things that people are doing every day. With playing, the needs of learning can be generated. Playing is to enjoy your current space. Learning is to expand your current space.

    Compulsory schooling, by locking people up in an isolated artificial environment for a long time, makes people forgetting what is playing and thus becoming passive skilled workers to work as part of the machines to serve the mass production.