Disciplined Play is an Important Part of Creativity

Although there seems to be broad consensus that creativity is an important skill for 21st century learners and business leaders there seems to be little agreement on what this actually means. Even Ken Robinson, who’s definition of creativity strikes me as a little too pat, struggles to break creativity into its component parts.


I’d rather not offer another definition. Instead I’d like to suggest that one of the essential parts of creativity is the capacity for disciplined play. Disciplined play is the self directed pursuit of an ill-defined or flexible goal that is just barely achievable. Disciplined play absorbs you, captivates you, leaves you wondering where the afternoon went, and might result in a mini-masterpiece or nothing practical to show for your efforts.


At its best social media is particularly well suited to disciplined play. Handheld computers and social networks combine powerful creative tools with access to like-minded people and a built in mechanism to share your work, get feedback, and (if it’s good) build a following. Maybe you find lightsaber plans on the internet and build your own. Maybe it’s model trains, perhaps you train for a race just to beat your own best time.


Here are some of my favorite examples:


Four Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again
(by a creative agency walking the walk)



Poetry as (disciplined) play (link)

(comparing poetry to baseball)


Adam Savage: My obsession with objects and the story they tell
(don’t give Adam Savage clay)


Never Say No to the Husky
(never give me free time in film class)


Do you engage in disciplined play? Do you wish you could? Do you think it really is a part of creativity? How can we engage students with this kind of work? Let us know in the comments!

Hans Mundahl

Hans Mundahl

Director of Technology Integration at New Hampton School

I've been an educator since 1995 when I first stepped into the classroom as a Fulbright exchange teacher in the former East Germany. Since then I've been an Outward Bound instructor, a teacher, tutor, admission officer, house head, evening administrator on duty and I ran the experiential learning program at New Hampton School for almost ten years. Today I focus on technology integration centered on values-driven technology integration and 1:1 iPad initiatives. Recently I had the chance to help New Hampton School become an Apple Distinguished School and I co-authored the iBook Teaching with the iPad (available on the iBookstore). Now I'm the founder of a scrappy little company (one employee!) called Hans Mundahl and Associates, inc a digital strategy consultancy for schools and non-profits. My free time is usually spent with my family but I'm also passionate about the outdoors and protecting the environment. I'm on the Board of Trustees at the Newfound Lake Region Association and when I have the chance I'm an active hiker, climber, and paddler. My writing appears on EdSocialMedia.com and I speak frequently at technology and education conferences.