In our line of work, we trade in creativity and innovation every day. Any agency worth its salt will have its own streams of nurturing and discovering creativity and innovation to enrich a client’s work. Ours is founded on play.

In theory, play fosters exploration and expression. It’s nature’s tool for developing neural networks, creating connections and stimulating creativity. Play helps us see and solve problems in new ways. It’s not just what experts with dusty beards and reams of research say. It’s also what we’ve proven to be true.

Ever seen the way kids play? When they play, they’re not afraid to try new stuff, test boundaries, experiment with ideas and explore what’s possible. Kids simply don’t have the same mental hang-ups adults do. They don’t overthink it. They just do it. And with that approach often comes surprising personal discoveries of what they can and cannot get away with, what they like and don’t like, who they are and who they aren’t. For years, Nike has leveraged this insight and milked it for everything it’s worth.

Speaking of Nike, I always enjoy seeing my nephews run. So free! Arms flailing, shoes slapping, peals of laughter ringing. They flee, they dodge, they run with abandon. They ignore No Entry signs. They simply don’t care where they end up or how they look. They just run. Compared to some serious runners I know – who slavishly work on their form, calculating every bent elbow, every lunge, every cadence and every footstrike – who do you think have more fun? Who do you reckon are more prone to running into undiscovered places, and learning just that little bit more about themselves? And interestingly, who do you think suffers more running injuries?

Like how a child develops in a healthy and inquisitive way through play, a brand too should go through a similar development process. Play lets a brand explore itself in relation to the world, identify its challenges and enablers, and test its limits and potential without the mental hang-ups. As a brand, if you truly want to discover your niche in the world, what makes you unique, what you can offer your customers that others can’t, you must be prepared to ignore some No Entry signs and run into some undiscovered places. Or better yet, don’t prepare. Just flail your arms like crazy, and run.

“There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago –”
J. Robert Oppenheimer, physicist

One of my favourite things to do when I was a young whippersnapper was to climb to the top of a jungle gym and leap from it. I absolutely loved it. I thought that’s just what kids do: You eat McDonald’s, you stay up way past your bedtime, and find places to jump off of.

And each time, I would scale higher and higher, sometimes just to see what the view was like, but most times to see if I was still capable of jumping. Without fail, even if it sometimes takes me nerves of steel and gallons of Coke, I jumped. Until one day my ankle gave way and I broke my chin. “No superhero, this one,” was what my brother said. That’s when I discovered the notion of my own mortality, and that sand sucked.

But the funny thing was, pretty soon, kids from the neighbourhood would be taking big air from the very same vantage point that challenged the brave (those who wanted to prove they could do it without being sent for stitches), and lured the foolish (those like me, who just liked to jump off stuff).

When it comes to creative work, what most clients want – whether they admit it or not – is to be swept away and see things they have never seen before. They may not say it. Heck, they may not even buy it. But when you take them to the top of that jungle gym, and show them a new vantage point in the work, you can always see that glimmer of excitement – signalled by that sparkle in their eyes, a smile that breaks from the corners of their mouth, that forward lean in the chair – and it’s brilliant!

As an agency, of course you want clients to take that leap with you. The bravest ones do. And the rewards are immeasurable for both parties. But not all clients are prepared to take the jump, and that’s ok too. Sometimes it’s reward enough just to see their eyes light up and their mental gears shift, as they survey their futurescape and contemplate the possibilities.