Pondering Practical Play

People often ask me where I get ideas for my books or come up with solutions for business needs. The answer is simultaneously easy and difficult. One of the topics I don’t discuss often enough in books such as C# Design and Development is the need for play. If you don’t play, then you’re not spending your time wisely because play opens the mind to possibilities that you might not have considered. The essence of play is thinking about the impossible and making it happen. Many adults think that play is just for children, but play is for everyone.

I’m not talking about the sort of play that many people think about today. Exercising your thumb muscles during a video game isn’t the sort of play that promotes creative thought. Mindlessly watching the television doesn’t work either. The sort of play I’m talking about is where you look at something and decide to do the impossible with it. When a child plays, a block of wood can become nearly anything. A stick becomes a broomstick for riding, a sword for fighting, a flagpole with a banner attached (whether there is a banner to see or not), a magic wand, or literally thousands of other items. The stick is still a stick, but play makes it into something more.

Do you take time anymore to watch a spider spin a web? When was the last time you decided to imagine shapes in clouds? The colors that you see—are they really as dull as you think? These sorts of questions are answered during play. I played in another post on this blog. Read the Quick Sugar Free Cupcakes post again and you’ll see that I played with the batter until I created something that pleased both Rebecca and me. No, they weren’t the most exotic cupcakes ever made, but that isn’t the point of playdoing something new and interesting is what play is all about.

Practical play is goal-oriented. I’m currently writing a series of posts about a program named GrabAPicture that I created during play time. My only goal when I started creating that application (and many others on my system) was to see what I could do and what it would take to do it. I played with the code until I created an interesting application from it. How many developers take time to play today? If we had more developers playing, perhaps many of the problems that we’re facing today would already be fixed. So, I started GrabAPicture with a goalto change my desktop wallpaper in a certain way, but I didn’t place any restrictions on how I achieved my goal or how long I’d play until I was happy with it. The idea was to spend some time writing code for no other reason than the sheer joy of doing so.

In most cases, practical play is also more artistic, than scientific or concrete. Decorating eggs my not seem very practical, but I experimented with various color combinations as part of the process. The knowledge I gained has changed some of the things I do in my books. An idea experienced while decorating eggs has had a practical outcome in the way that I view color in my books. This is what play is all about.

Play is an essential part of the human experience. When you play, you free yourself from the bonds that normally keep you from thinking with your whole mind. A person who is playing is relaxed and free to think outside the normal boundaries that we set for ourselves. Some of the most influential thinkers throughout history have played. Read about Einstein and Edison as just two examples. You’ll find that they both played while others kept to the grindstone. How do you play? Let me know at [email protected].