In this month’s solo episode, we look at the interaction between play and focus in a creative process, something hinted at by all our guests this month. Katie shares how she applies this in creating abstract art and theatre as well as courses for executives. We learn some things from children, the masters of play, and delve into how we might choose to be more playful (since most of us are better at the focus part).
We mention the book, Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen (sorry for nor remembering who wrote it while recording). For a more scientific examination of why play is important you can also check out “Play, how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul” by Stuart Brown M.D.
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Hi, my name is Katie Annice Carr and this is the step podcast a podcast for people of all creative persuasions, whether your inspiration comes from designing businesses, painting pictures, or watching Netflix. If you’d like to know more about step up, create a step up create podcast, please go to www dot step up create.com Please follow us and give us a review. It really does make a big difference Hello, and welcome to this week’s podcast and today I thought it might be interesting for us to think a little bit or talk a little bit or for me to talk a little. Let’s be precise for me to talk a little bit about the balance between play and focus. Now over the past few weeks, we’ve had quite a lot to think about with all of our guests and a feeling like there’s just so many ideas that are still waiting to drop down and percolate and for me to make sense of them. But one of the things I noticed was that both of my guests this month and Vishal were talking about this idea of balancing play and focus they might not have actually said this, but this is essentially what I understood reading between the lines. This is something that the EagleEye did Monday you may have noticed is something that I put on the website and you can find on our homepage we say we believe in balancing play with application and focus workshops encourage a fun open approach whilst also focusing on the goals that’s obviously focused towards explaining what we do in terms of how we help companies. But for me, this idea of balancing play and focus is also really important when it comes to artistic processes. Over the last couple of days, I have got back into painting. And that sounds like I’ve been away from it for years and let it sort of fester in a corner and I wasn’t doing anything with it. But that’s not entirely the case. All that happened was during the summer I really started focusing on my business plan and my my business and trying to get everything sorted. And then I had the podcasts and creative focus and I painted a little bit but nothing serious. Nothing with a big idea and this week, I have started painting again and that is thanks to someone who is going to be our next guest on the creative life podcast in a couple of weeks. Lynne Stewart, who was my design teacher when I was a teenager, and she asked me if I’d be willing to paint her picture of and she’d asked me do this painting and I thought Yeah, I’d love to do this painting but I haven’t actually done a proper painting for quite a while. So I got the paints out got the got the canvases out painted them, got everything ready and have actually just been enjoying the last few days in between teaching in between coaching and doing the podcast and all the rest of it being able to put on different layers of acrylic paint. Now with the paintings that I’ve been working on this week. I have a clearer idea of what I want to express and that is this idea of a safe space for me, the pottery studio in the school where I was and the pottery studio as it was run by and steer it was a beautiful space where I could feel safe when I didn’t feel safe. In other places. And there are a few places like that that were created by specific people. And I’ve also tried to create myself later on. So the idea for this set of paintings is all about these safe spaces. So starting from there, where do you start? With a painting? Where do you start with an abstract painting because you can visualise a little bit what does that space feel like? What does that space look like? What what is the texture of it? All of this, but as soon as you start to intellectualise too much it becomes really difficult to reflect on the paper so the way I start is by playing and by playing I mean enjoying the flow of the paint, little by little mixing different colours, colour mixing itself can be played because you’re not actually necessarily going to use those colours. You’re just trying to mix them up. I hear was trying to mix up different colours that felt like the clay or felt like the light that came in through the windows or the desktops of that studio in particular, but also this feeling of safe space. So I’ve sort of got that in the back of my mind, but at the same time I’m playing with it. And I put the first layer on just literally playing with the paint and then I get to a point where it starts to get a bit muddy and think okay, you know, now I’ve done 1015 minutes of putting paint down I need to let it dry otherwise it’s just going to be a mess. So I’ll leave it and then when I next come back to it, my job is to focus a little bit to really look at and go what do I like about this? What do I want to develop further what ideas are coming out of this? And how can I build on those ideas? And that would be the sort of focus before then going back into a play time. And the play time is experimenting with how can I build up these layers? How can I make this what I want it to be without really imagining exactly what I wanted to be and that will go on in my creative process. In painting for a really long time. This balance also comes in play. Now. This is not something new. This is not something that I’ve invented. It’s certainly a process that a lot of different artists use and it’s also the basic process that we talk about in design. Thinking. This is talking about divergent and convergent thinking, which is known in design thinking as a double diamond. The Double Diamond being this opening up for divergent thinking and closing down for convergent thinking, opening up again divergent thinking closing down for convergent thinking that’s kind of accepted that that’s two steps, but that it’s also in an iteration phase. So you can just go round and round that many times. So that’s definitely something that we see when we’re designing in business or when we’re designing when real designers let’s say are designing products and services. It’s also something that I’ve lived a lot through theatre. So I’ve had the opportunity many times actually to develop devised pieces, which means that the theatre doesn’t start from a script and it’s not a single person that decides what’s going to go on. It’s actually many people, you as a group essentially start improvising and from the improvisation ideas come and from those ideas. Someone usually one person develops the script or develops what’s going to happen. Yeah, they usually as someone who’s in charge, it’s completely a process which is open for anybody to decide what goes into it. So the last one I was in on this was a few years ago just before COVID actually in December 2019 And this was called bridges point this and while there were different ways of how we developed the scenes in this and it was led by a couple of people directing it and very professionally in all of this. One of the funnest parts of the whole process for me wasn’t necessarily the forming and the rehearsing and all of this, so that was good, too. It was the part using a psychodrama technique called dramatic multiplication. And what happens in this is it’s basically playing like children towards a purpose. So you start with a basic idea. So in this case, we were talking about different approaches to gender, which was the sort of whole basis of the play itself. And you just start off everybody in the group is thinking about ideas for different scenes. And what you do is when you’ve got an idea you kind of stand up and say, I’ve got an idea and grab people that you want to improvise this scene with and just tell them basically what they’ve got to do. Get them to run in do it. It’s very rough version, you sort of sketching it out if you like. Everybody else watches it and someone decides you know, whether that goes in or not. Whether it goes in or not, is more of the adaptation of this multiplication to developing some piece of theatre rather than actually how it’s used in psychodrama. In psychodrama is used to explore different points of view and different beliefs that the people that the group might have around this thing that they’re talking about. Anyway, in the way we did it. It was an improvisation technique. So using improvisation to play as much as possible as quickly as possible, and to get all of those ideas done and I just remember sitting there doing this and having such a laugh. And by the end of it, having done with, with the whole group like 20 different scenes, of which there are at least four or five pretty decent ideas which we could then use to go forward and refine further in the actual play. So here’s an example of clay, which is then followed by the focus of two people in this case, who were the directors saying, yes, that seems a good one. Let’s develop it further. And then going into exactly how might we refine the scene? How might we change it? Who might we put in it? How might we dress all of the stuff that you need in order to make a theatrical scene work and rehearsing it of course. So this is all this idea of play and focus again. For me play is something that is really important in creativity, perhaps even more than focus, but one without the other, doesn’t really get things done. So if you imagine play without focus, you have a lot of fun, but you don’t actually get anything done. And if you have focus without play, then you’re essentially probably not getting anything new or different. So play is something that helps develop creativity and it’s an essential part of creativity. There’s a psychologist called Winnicott who’s famous in psychological circles. He did a lot around child development, and he said it’s only in play that the child or the adult has individuals are capable of being creative and use the whole of their personality and only through being creative. Can the individual discover himself. Nice quote. So this is the idea that play is not only important for creative processes, but also important for self development. And this connects a bit to something that Toby was saying in his interview on the podcast, which was about this being allowed to grow up in a space where we were not very supervised, and just being able to play and we played so many imaginative games. I’m not saying we were like amazing children. It was just that this was how we played and I remember particularly and it must have been because in school they were talking about mediaeval villages and things like this but I remember playing with some of the kids from the village, who we would just build stuff with and being in the garden of fun kids or others and we used to play holes in it. And this was basically a game which involves building this building. Of the plague. Someone would sometimes be the evil Baron who’d come to turn us out and things like that, but I just remember imagining it, and it being so real. And I think that was good for my development I come up with some really scientific point here, but it was something that was really enjoyable and something that I was lucky to be able to continue doing through most of my teenage years in theatre, and especially improvised ational theatre or device theatre and then after a short gap as an adult by becoming part of amateur dramatics and being involved in improvisation, and I don’t like to insist on the fact that theatre Q is everything but really, if you do theatre, you are going to feel much better because you’re going to be working on this balance of play, and focus. You have to focus at some point to get the thing done to tie up the stories to make it work. So the masters of play are obviously children. And if we think about why that’s the case, mostly most things that the literature says about this is that they basically haven’t developed any inhibitions and they’re free thinking they haven’t been put into a particular box or told that they need to not play anymore, which is pretty much what happens to adults. So luckily, if you’ve got children around, you can use them to help you to play more because it tends to be as adults, we’re pretty good at the focus part. We’re pretty good at getting things done. Different levels, but you know, most of us know how to get things done. We know how to select things we know how to make decisions. Obviously, there’s a whole load of stuff we could talk about on decision making and effective decision making and all of this kind of thing. But let’s assume that most people can make decisions we can decide whether we want to include this or not. We can decide whether we want to move forward with this idea or another idea. And then we can make that happen by moving forward in a pretty rational way to get that thing done. And that’s what we need. As artists, as business people as anyone who’s creating anything, and also just living your life in general. We need to be able to move forward but at the same time we need to be able to play and the experts on play the kids so if you’ve got a kid you can observe them and get involved with them as well. You know this probably even better than I do that you can just start a game with them and they will continue they will probably not follow the improvisational theatre route rules of building on Yes. And they will probably say no, no, you’re not a unicorn. You’re a dog go and sit in the corner. Maybe not exactly that. Something like that. So what can you do? There’s a really interesting book on this which I have not completely read. I have to be honest with you, but still gives me a lot of inspiration and it’s called playful parenting. I can’t remember the author I will put it in the show notes though. And all it is the essential idea is that you can use play, to teach to show discipline to do all sorts of things to get out of these difficult situations. Now, I’ve got a four year old and a two year old and we can get into some pretty difficult situations where neither of them want to walk home and they might be sitting down in the middle of the street and we need to get out of that and that can be difficult. It’s really difficult if you tell them they shouldn’t be doing it or we need to go or whatever. If you don’t do this, you’re not going to get your dinner. And you know you could read a lot about positive parenting and a lot of things about parenting and this is a whole other can of worms. You could we could open up so much about this and then find that in the heat of the moment in what actually happens when you’ve really got to get something to happen. Either it doesn’t work or you don’t make it work. You’re incapable of making work. But one thing that I’ve always got to work when I feel like I’m able to that is when I am okay with myself which is one of the main things is being playful So, me to go home and they’re sitting down in the middle of the street saying they’re not moving. I need to make it into a game if I can make it into a game, then we can get them home and that game might be right or Race you to the door. Or it might be okay. I’m going to tag you or whatever that always works far better than anything else. And if you think about it as adults, it’s the same. That’s why there’s such a rise in gamification. That’s why we become more motivated when I watch gives us a little prize for achieving the goal this month or something. This is not just about goals. It’s also about this game. It’s about the play. The toughest thing about play I find and I’ve observed a lot in other people particularly because in a lot of my classes and facilitations I am inviting people to play and eventually they all do whether that’s through theatre, whether it’s through dance, whether it’s through drama, whatever we’re doing, more is inviting them to play and giving them that space to play. So the toughest thing for me and for other people is to get into it. So many times we start out in the attitude and I can talk about myself here. My attitude sometimes when even when I’m going into something like theatre is okay I can’t be bothered to get out but I just feel like I want this to be easy. And it takes a while to warm up. And it just does take a while to warm up to play as adults. We are so much of our life in this doing world where we need to get everything done, and we don’t spend much time in it being world in a world where we can just have fun. We can just be silly, we can just play and it takes us a while to make the switch between the two. So for me when I’m doing this as part of a workshop, I’m slowly inviting people to play in easier ways. So I’m not going to ask them to get up and start jumping around and pretending to be a frog generally depends. It depends what the point of the workshop is. But mostly I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to ask a small way. That’s why things like Lego can be useful or just drawing with wax crayons and stuff. Like this just to get started. And the same thing happens with kids. When you’ve got a kid it takes a while for you to get into the game. I find this that our sort of be with my list of things to do and avoiding going into the game a little bit or playing with them. And then when we get into it I’m like this is really fun. This is okay, it takes a while for you to get into the game. I find this that I’ll sort of be with my list of things to do and avoiding going into the game a little bit or playing with them. And then when we get into it, I’m like, This is really fun. This is good. This is this is great. The same thing in theatre or the same thing when I’m in the classes. So when I’m receiving a class especially, so the thing with clay is not so much that we don’t know how to do it, but we try and avoid it quite often. Ask yourself how are you avoiding play and how could you get in the mixer a little bit, allow yourself to have a little bit of fun playing around and just having these moments of really not thinking about the results and more focusing on what is nice what is fun, what feels good. That’s where players in the what feels good, then you can stop. You don’t have to live your entire life in that you wait, we will live live so we need to be able to build stuff or have a proper job or get the kids to school. We need to be able to take the focus to move forward but we can mix it with clay and you don’t have to mix it in a kind of okay, this is playtime. This is focused on this is playtime. This is focused time, although quite often, that is exactly what we do, even in some of the most creative things which could be creating a painting as I was saying at the beginning. So this idea of putting the different layers on and having this moments of discernment of what do I want in the picture? What do I not want in the picture? Followed by? Okay, let’s just play it up a bit more and add some different layers and different things and see what this does is exactly what makes a good painting or a good result even though you’re not actually focused on the result for most of the time. And this is what happens also in my workshops, my corporate workshops, so imagine that you’re with a whole group of people, large purpose executives or whatever. And you say to me, okay, I want to focus on developing their creativity skills. If we go head on into this, and we say, Okay, we’re gonna focus on creativity. How creative Are you? How are we going to focus on this? How are we going to build your creativity, it’s all in your space, creativity, creativity, creativity, rational, rational, rational. And for some people, this is too much. This is hitting them in the face with a label that they find difficult to get over. So what we need to do is to take an approach similar to the approach that you would take to dealing with a trauma. Now when you’re dealing with trauma and therapy, you’re not going to go straight into the trauma go, Okay, let’s talk about this really difficult thing, this really horrible thing that happened to you. Let’s talk directly about that. I mean, there may be some therapies that do that, but generally, you’re slowly getting closer to it. You’re not really focused on what is that objective right now that you’re focusing on your general objective is to accompany the person to help them through their own levels of understanding and comprehension of themselves. And in doing so, approached that trauma in a different way. So this has a name even it’s called distancing, I think, and it’s all about the fact that the workshops or the therapy sessions don’t need to go straight to the objective so for me, this is something interesting because sometimes I have a tendency in corporate work particularly, to take the objectives of the company and sort of plaster them all over the place. Go get this is where we go to this is what we’re doing. We’re here to get there. And that’s obviously not the best way of developing skills because people develop skills through experience, they develop skills through having fun, and through this idea of balancing focus and play. So my way of doing this and it’s not just my way it’s kind of obviously used by other people as well, is to have moments of freedom to let people experience that to almost force them into it, because that’s expected of them, they wouldn’t normally do it. And this is something that’s taking them way out of their comfort zone. So therefore, they’re learning a whole load of stuff that they wouldn’t be learning if they were just focused on what’s my objective. How do I get there? What have I got to do? So all of this to basically say that there are many ways of looking at focus and play and for me, so there are many ways of looking at focus in play. There are many ways of including them both in lots of different types of creative processes, whether that’s a learning process, whether it’s creating a painting, whether it’s creating a piece of theatre or music or whatever, but it’s essential to have that play to be able to open up and develop connect new things, rather than to just keep with the rational idea. Creativity for me is not a rational concept. Although it has logic and rationality in it. It needs that kind of flowing. being empathetic side which is found in play. So I hope that I’ve convinced you that play and focus are a good idea. Obviously, I’ve used basically no scientific evidence at all. I’m just talking about it a little bit. You can find research on this. Maybe I should have done that before recording the podcast. Anyway. I think you can probably identify which of these is the area that you would most need to develop in. I would say for most of us it’s play. It’s not the focus part, but for some people you may be already super creative, have loads of ideas and be playing all the time and actually find it hard to get things done. In which case, you probably need to work on focus a bit more. Focus all about taking decisions, deciding what you want in what you want out how to continue forward and getting it done. Those are key things that we learn in business he learned in business school you learn when you start your first job. Play, however, is somehow squashed out of us. And we’re sort of told that it’s not necessary it is purposeless, and therefore why are we even doing it? So the thing I would like you to take away from this, if possible without being too lecturing is go and play. It is useful, it is helpful. It’s the non direct way of getting to the result, but it will get you to the result and it will get you to a much better result than you would get to if you just go straight there. So thanks for listening. See you next time. Bye. 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