Social Innovation: How Play Enhances Creativity



According to Peter Sims, “Creating an atmosphere that allows for playfulness and improvisation is one of the most effective ways to inspire the experimentation that leads to the best ideas and insights.” In Little Bets, Sims illustrates how some compelling research has revealed the neurological basis for how improvisation can unleash creativity. I encourage play in all forms as a way to develop creativity—through games, music, dancing, painting, writing, or just about anything that taps into your imagination. But I’d like to explore how being in social environments can create a platform in which you can learn how to be more engaging and more remarkable.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance.” When I get stuck in a rut, I was always a firm believer in ‘uncorking’ every now and then. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy—as long as you don’t go overboard. My friends used to think of me as the prototypical partyboy. They still probably think of me as that guy. There’s a reason for this of course—it’s because I was always the one that was throwing the party. In college, I was the President of my fraternity, Omega Phi Alpha. I’ve just always been a social person.

Now, when my wife and I go out anywhere in San Francisco, we get special treatment. My wife loves music and loves to dance and to be around our friends. We get invited to the hottest parties in the city, we never have to wait in line, and we often don’t have to pay for drinks. Being VIP has its perks, no matter what anyone says or how pretentious it seems to be. Everyone wants to get special treatment. Did this happen immediately? Of course not. I’ve spent a lot of time going to San Francisco nightclubs, waiting in line, and paying cover charges. My wife, not so much—because beautiful women always get special treatment. But this allowed me to gain some important insight into how social circles function.

In Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, he discusses early adopters at length. He also calls them ‘sneezers’—those who are more likely to spread your ideas and adopt innovative new platforms. You want people to adopt your ideas so you have to pull them behind the velvet rope. You have to provide them with information that you just won’t give everyone else. You have to treat them well for following you and being a part of your concentric circle. Pulling your audience behind the velvet rope early on is the key to building your brand and your audience cloud.

My wife really enjoys the club scene and listening to energetic house music. We enjoy drinks and dancing more than a lot of people. I would argue that partying is good for creative innovation to an extent. This is because dancing and socializing is improvisational—and there is an element of creativity involved in moving to music and having engaging conversations. There have been many occasions in which I’ve gotten too caught up in my work, so much that I would hit a slew of creative obstacles and I couldn’t plow through them no matter how much I wrote or read.

These are times in which you must be cognizant of your creative energies. You must establish your own creative rhythm and force yourself to take breaks. In Todd Henry’s book, The Accidental Creative, he makes an interesting connection between the ‘negative space’ in art, design, and music—meaning that the negative space is just as important as the space we fill with content. Negative space in music is important because it establishes rhythm. Negative space in art establishes tone and dimension.

Negative space in writing scenes establishes narrative tone and pacing. Pay attention to these creative spaces. I’m not saying that partying provides empty space although it can be empty if used simply for the sake of indulgence. But use this space to maximize its full effect on your creative repertoire. There’s a way to catalyze innovation no matter where you are. So use it as an incubation period of discovery. In social situations I’ve learned to put on various lenses and wear different hats. There is a strong element of creativity that occurs not just when you are at a party but when you are out and about your day among other people. A social scene heightens this experience and it’s interesting to observe how people behave. This is because you have a level of freedom and restriction pulling at you simultaneously. You feel like you should be talking to people but sometimes you just want to sit in a corner and drink your beverage. Or maybe you are the life of the party and need to be under the spotlight as often as possible. Either way, I look at social situations as great platforms to exercise your creativity and innovation.

The next time you’re in a creative rut—I dare you to go out, alone if you have to. Or perhaps even during the day. You can go to pretty much any public space—a shopping mall, a bookstore, a restaurant, a coffee shop. Simply start a conversation with someone. Ask a question. Ask someone what their opinion is about a pressing matter you have in your head. You will be surprised at how willing people will be to talk to you. This is because we are social beings and people have a natural inclination to converse. But I would challenge you to engage them. Be interesting. Don’t just ask them what time it is. Start a conversation that may lead you to understand something deeper about that person.

Neil Strauss, a world-famous pick up artist and the author of The Game, explored social engagement by immersing himself in an underground community of pick up artists. Among them was a master pick up artist but the name of Erik Von Markovic—better known in the community asMystery. Mystery developed a whole ideology of seduction which he calls The Mystery Method.Strauss’s book explores the process of attraction at length and demystifies various social myths and tactics to attract women, such as complimenting a beautiful woman to start a conversation, buying them drinks, or revealing your intentions on the outset. Mystery teaches Strauss that attraction is not a choice but a series of phases in which you have control over any social situation. Some of these tactics include:

  • The opener—simply starting a conversation by asking a woman or a group of women their opinion on a certain subject
  • Demonstrating higher value through the stories you tell
  • Building attraction through playful banter and poking fun at your target
  • Providing provocative observations about your target through certain techniques to read and analyze behavior, attire, or other characteristics

I mention these tactics because they are interesting and effective principles that you can apply in any social situation and not just for seduction. The underlying principles here are that in order for people to be interested in you, you simply have to be interesting. You have to be remarkable. By engaging people in unique ways and starting conversations that are fun, thought-provoking, and exceptionally unique, you provide yourself with a wealth of content to build your brand platform. You learn how to be engaging and how to be remarkable.

When I go out, sometimes I wear the ‘charmer’ hat—the social entrepreneur—the guy that works the room and makes everyone feel at home in a public venue. I do this because it’s fun and I am naturally interested in other people. The key element here is authenticity. The Game teaches you tactics and strategies, but it all comes down to being an authentic individual, even though many people in the community were not. I am strange however, as other times I get quiet and merely observe people in different surroundings. I’m sure you’ve done this too—been the social ‘voyeur’, the people watcher, the party interloper that catches glimpses of social interactions.

When you put on this hat, pay attention to the way people operate. Watch the way people initiate discussions. Watch people that have a history with one another. Watch people that just met. Watch the games that people play. There are so many interesting and engaging interactions and behaviors that take place in these situations that could catalyze your creativity. Again, I mention these things because it affects your ability to not only be more creative but to be more engaging. Your attitude, your frame of mind, and your knowledge, like everything else—your ability to engage your audience and transform your cloud is the result of the unique combination of ideas and skills you bring to the table. Just keep in mind that there’s a limit to amplifying your creativity in social settings. Don’t party every night and don’t do things that may rub people the wrong way. Social settings, especially settings at night, involve people that have been drinking and alcohol always makes situations even more unpredictable. I would even recommend going out and not drinking at all. If you’re practicing social innovation in the right way, you will have a ton of fun simply talking to people.

Social innovation is about exploring your creativity in conversation and your ability to engage people. Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in the ‘scene’. Throughout my twenties, I was really caught up in the scene. I was going out four nights a week because I was successful at work and thought that I was invincible. Even though it was a lot of fun, it wasn’t entirely productive. Moderation is always the key when it comes to being social. It’s always all about balance. My wife and I still go out every now and then, and when I do, I enjoy myself by talking to people and connecting with them on various levels and being authentically interested in who they are. I engage them by picking their brain about creativity. I’m simply curious about everyone’s creative process. Having a genuine interest in other people is the key to success.

Social innovation is not about being an opportunist. It’s about being authentic and providing value to others by having an engaging presence. You need to be more than just comfortable in your own skin. You need to make others comfortable in theirs. Finding ways to innovate in social interactions is extremely important in cultivating your creativity. It comes down to how people value your character. The more value you provide others, the more value you create for yourself. This is good for your psyche, and this will help you innovate your life and be remarkably creative. Creating this magnetic energy field will attract good people and good fortune.

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