The Power of Play

coloring with crayons

By MJ Ali

Ever since I can remember, there’s been creative activity in my family. Art, music, photography, writing, word play, gardening, poem about paintingcooking, and even crafts were always happening. My mom, who had a full-time job with an hour-long commute to and from work, somehow found time – with four children – to paint, sketch, teach painting, cook, sew, garden, and do all the other stuff that piles on top of each weekend. She somehow crammed everything into those two days, but weekends never felt rushed or stressed.


No time was more relaxing than when mom was painting. There was a ritual to it, and it always started with a smell. Turpentine and linseed oil would fill the air as she prepared her brushes. Then the sound of scraping as she mapped out her canvas with light charcoal touches followed by periods dabbed with pregnant silence as she stepped back and contemplated. There was a certain rhythm to it all.

She slid into this flow that was perfectly balanced even with a running child or the cacophony of music and chatter that filled the house on the weekends. She was flexible and peaceful, and I realized later that this was her meditation. Her bliss.

As an adult, my creative world is very different, and I strive to be like mom – or even like my own meditation – in my creative practices. I’m not nearly as successful as she was, but I keep trying.

I have two big struggles: being too hard on myself and being a perfectionist. I know I’m not alone. A lot of people, especially when it comes to creative expression, either feel they don’t have the time or don’t have anything to express – or don’t know where to even start. Remember that expression, “dance like nobody’s watching”? I try to create like nobody’s judging, especially myself.

Creative expression has tremendous benefits, including stress relief, freedom of expression, problem solving, and self-awareness. We’re naturally creative as children; the trick is bringing that creative freedom into adulthood, where we are encouraged to censor our creative, playful selves.

Creativity in business, any business, can have tangible benefits. Employees become more invested in the success of the company if they’re actively engaged. Creative expression and exchange can lead to flexible thought and fresh ideas.

In one of my former jobs as a program director for a non-profit, I had an old, linoleum-topped desk, one of those big old metal ones. The top could handle pencil and marker and be wiped clean after. So I always kept a stack of pencils and water-soluble markers on it and when I had meetings, I would invite everyone to draw on the desk. They’d invariably have this wide-eyed expression of disbelief followed by a mischievous look as they started to draw. Some reticently, some with abandon.

Conversations would become more fluid, new ideas would emerge, and everyone communicated much more genuinely and collaboratively. Because the surface was communal, there was a shared experience, and often some playfulness as one person would encroach on the drawing zone of the person next to them.

Why do some companies have “play rooms” or games incorporated into their work environment? It boosts productivity, lowers stress, provides the opportunity to allow new ideas to emerge.

There are so many seemingly little things you can do to spark or encourage creative expression, it’s just a matter of finding what works for you, and if you plan on implementing something in your business environment, what works there as well.

And you don’t have to go all out. You can dip your toe in once a day for a minute to start. There’s this app, based on physical decks of cards, which are in turn based on a book (all are available), called Creative Whack Pack by Roger von Oech, and it’s packed with daily prompts, whimsical “Whacks” and other resources that can literally change your mood or the direction of your day by flipping a card. By presenting the unexpected, von Oech challenges you to think outside the box. I encourage you to take a look and see what you might want to incorporate into your personal and/or business day.

I hope we all get to giggle and get a little messy at least once in the week to come.

Here’s to the power of play!

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