Joi Ito wants you to play more

It stands to reason that creativity must surely come from somewhere. But where? Suggesting that there is an underlying logic to the creative process undermines some of its mystique. Nevertheless, explaining the roots of creativity and success is now a cottage industry. You can now read about strategies to become a creative person, the common traits of creative people, and how to unlock your inner creative genius. Creativity is no longer something that is simply done; it is also discussed.

Joi Ito’s biography is a case study in how happenstance and choices combine to make us more creative. In an interview with How We Get To Next, the director of MIT’s Media Lab discusses his personal experiences and the lessons that can be gleaned from them. As a high school student, Ito hung out in the offices of his mother’s employer, Energy Conversion Devices, taking in everything he could. This experience inspired his views on the education system, which he believes creates obedient bores. Engaging with the real world at younger age, Ito contends, is the key to creating disobedient creative-types.

We need to play more in order to learn more. 

In other words, Ito believes we need to play more in order to learn more. Rote memorization turns us into automatons yet, no matter how much one excels at memorization, it impossible to surpass robots in this area. Resistance is futile. Creative projects, on the other hand, play to human strengths. Thus, Ito concludes, “If you want creative work, you have to give people space to play. Play is a really important driver for creativity.” 

Play, like creativity, is better experienced than discussed. Words cannot convey the complexity and immersive reality of play but they are necessary. How are we to build a more playful and, by extension, creative society, if we never talk about it? Moreover, even if these discussions fetishize play and creativity, they are valuable because they demystify the creative process. Immersive experiences may feel like magic but, if we are to appreciate them, we can’t pretend that they are conjured out of thin air.