Adults need a fair amount of assistance to understand how Play adds value to their adult world. While it seems obvious to me, the vast majority of adults I come across, do not see Play the way I do. They see Play firmly housed in the domain of childhood.


I’ve been working on a model to place Play in a continuum of Imagination, Creativity and Innovation. I do know that adults find the last two concepts very attractive, and often very desirable (in a business context it’s more innovation than creativity). This post represents my first attempt at a model…

Here are five words that very simply place Play into that continuum. I discovered them watching a short video advertising a course on creativity recently. During the advert, there was a 2 second clip where Emily Hinks says:

Creativity is just applied imagination


Imagination is the genesis of all creativity and innovation. Somewhere in the recesses of our minds new and interesting thoughts find life, in a conceptual space we call ‘the imagination’. We can’t reach in and physically touch or manipulate what we imagine, however we can, through mystical and magical mental gymnastics, bend, stretch, mold, add colour, give a voice to, etc, the fantasy world that is emerging inside of us.

While much of what is housed in our imagination can simply stay there, and be enjoyed, it is only when our fantasy world is extracted and placed into the real world, that true magic happens. It’s at this moment that unfathomable potential and possibility is released, that has the power to alter the course of the universe (that may be a bit of an overreach).

creativity is imagination applied play

It has become obvious to me that play is the mechanism through which we release our imagination into the world. Thoughts, ideas and fantasy are given form to take part as a constructive (or destructive) and meaningful influence in our world.


If you were to put a group of children into a sandpit with a collection of toy ships and boats, it won’t be long before the sandpit they’re sitting in becomes a grand ocean, where all sorts of stories and scenarios play themselves out, in a very real, tangible and practical way. If you were to approach them and ask how boats and ships are able to move around so freely through sand, they might look at you incredulously, and declare that the sandpit was in fact an ocean, with no sand in site. As if you were crazy for not seeing what they are experiencing.

That’s imagination finding form, and being applied to creativity. Simple, seamless and beautiful.

While my drawing skills are never going to make me any money, if you were to place a random squiggle on a page, and ask me to incorporate the squiggle into some kind of a larger drawing, I would need to pause and engage my imagination before putting pencil to paper. I would have to consult my fantasy world for a time, to place that squiggle into something larger that looked like a picture that we could both recognise (although with my lack of skills, we may not be both be looking the same thing).

You can take that process and apply it to music, dance, sculpture, photography, poetry, cooking, writing, mathematics (see Einstein), science, design, architecture, strategy, communication, sales, and the list goes on and on and on.


Play is a critical function that grounds our imagination into the real world. Play is not some childlike activity only exercised for fun during childhood. Play during childhood is not meant to stop once we get to teenagehood. It’s a critical skill that, when continued into adulthood, continues to serve us, as we create and ultimately innovate, which in business is of course, the holy grail.

You can’t skip a step. You can’t expect that you will sit in front of an easel and incredible art will simply emerge. You can’t sit in a business meeting trying to solve an important business problem, and expect that innovation will jump out at you. Everything you need in order to create, and then innovate, comes from the vast collection of thoughts, ideas and fantasy housed in your imagination.

You must Play to unlock and ground your imagination. You must create in order to make something that has a physical presence in the world. And you must innovate, in order to use the result of creativity to make a meaningful difference. However, you have to keep doing all 3 all of the time, if you’re going to be any good at it.

imagination play creativity innovation

That’s it. Round one of my model. I look forward to everyone and anyone who chooses to weigh in with their own thoughts on how Play is a critical component when it comes to making our world far richer than it already is.

Over to you…