One of the core skill sets for handling conflict is creative problem solving. The key word in that sentence is “creative.” Quite often, when people are in conflict, they can’t see their way out of it. Or they see only limited options. One way to break deadlock is to approach the issues from a new angle and in a new way. That’s where play comes in. Play prepares you for conflict by keeping your creative brain in shape.
When you’re in conflict, you want to draw upon seemingly unrelated pieces of information to arrive at new insights and solutions. Re-arranging what you know and opening new pathways to understanding can make the difference between an innovative solution that meets everyone’s priority needs and a ‘meh, I can live with it but…” agreement. Or worse, no agreement.
Brains like patterns.
When you take in information, your brain creates patterns and stores them in a way you can recognize when you need it. Once the pattern is set, your brain swishes the palms of its hands back and forth and sighs with the satisfaction of a job well done. It’s done. Similar stimuli and information are added and over time, a deeper groove is carved into those patterned memory files. They become rigid.
The more rigid the patterns, the fewer are the options you can find when searching for new ideas or approaches.
There are alternative ways of arranging incoming information just as there are numerous filing systems. Isn’t that one of the great things about computers? You can organize your data in numerous ways, depending on how you want to use it, on your own quirky sense of organization or based on any other criteria you choose. Time marches on and you realize there are files in there that could be moved and re-arranged into new categories for a different purpose. You just copy/paste them wherever you want.
Recombination of existing data helps you see possibilities that wasn’t apparent before.
Try it sometime with your computer files. As an experiment, create a new folder and label it “Creative Combo.” Think of a new project you’d like to work on or pull one off the back burner. Now go through your files and documents and pull anything into your Creative Combo folder that might even loosely inform your new project. Don’t stop there. Pull in items that your gut tells you might be interesting even if it seems totally unrelated. Oh, did you discover some old research reports you’d forgotten? Don’t think too hard about it. Just populate that folder until you have a good dozen items in it.
The very act of moving files this way might already have you salivating with creative juices. Not because of the physical doing but because your mind is already starting to think about what’s in them. You’re helping it see new patterns. Reviewing the contents of each file might further give you ideas on how to kick start your new project, who else to include, resources to draw upon, a different way of tackling it. Not all those files you moved here will end up being useful. That’s okay. Delete them. Only keep the ones you want.
Your brain doesn’t have its own copy/paste and re-arrange function.
It needs your help with that. Just as rearranging computer files teaches your brain new patterns, so does play.
Play goes further in that it keeps your brain fit and supple. Ready to take on challenges and find new pathways. Able to think beyond pre-established patterns.
How does play do this?
Much the same way regular physical exercise keeps your muscles fit and strong. Playing gets and keeps your brain in shape for when you need it to think creatively.
One of those times is, most certainly, during conflicts.
Who knew getting in shape to handle conflict could be so much fun?
The key is to choose play that is both fun and challenging to give those brain synapses a good workout.
In this article, I list fifteen playful habits to kickstart your creative problem solving. Add to the list. Play often. Be playful. Go ahead, you have my permission. 🙂
I have a quote sitting on my office shelf by that famous person, Anonymous, to remind me to play.
“Play a little today. Be foolish at least once. Let yourself go for a second. Try planned absurdity.”
It is often during planned absurdity that the most interesting ideas emerge. These ideas breed more ideas until eventually one makes you gasp with delight. “This could work,” you say. “Let’s try this one.”
What do you do to play? What brings out your playful side?