Thursday, March 06, 2008

Discipline of Playing

A few weeks ago the NY Times wrote an extensive article about the importance of playing for children because behavioral scientists found a strong correlation between playing and learning. Playing is not a useless task for children but it provides them with an environment in which they can not just learn social interactions but patterns of learning itself. It seems that playing is less about a particular learned factoid than the capability of learning itself.

We marketers should embrace this concept of playing as a major strategy to build a learning individual and a learning organization. Too often we ignore the benefits of playing around with marketing questions, data sets, and strategic ideas. This lack of playing hinders us to fully leverage an individual’s and on organization’s full creative and intellectual capability.

I recommend a few strategies to incorporate playing into the daily life of a data driven marketing organization:
  • Take a particular research or data set and write a playful story about it a la Aesop’s fable or Brother Grimm’s.
  • Take a common agreed on fact or axiom for one of your marketing challenges (e.g. young male are the key targets for fast food restaurants) and turn it upside down (e.g. older female are the key targets for fast food restaurants). Play with the consequences of this reverse factoid or insight and see where it takes you.
  • Take a few very separate data inputs for a particular issue and try to combine them into something that resembles something new. Children love taking very different elements and play around with them until they become something new and exciting (e.g. a castle, an animal)

All these ideas are centered on playing with the material and inputs that we marketers deal with everyday: Data sets, Research material, Insights, Strategic Challenges, but without a particular goal in mind. Children don’t start playing with a particular desired outcome, they just start playing and thereby build a capability of life long learning. Let’s rediscover this talent and retrain us to be able to play.


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