⚡ See how fun can lead to great innovation — exploring the role of play in innovation and invention.

A screenshot from Steve Johnson's TED talk on how play can lead to great innovation and invention.The Playful Wonderland Behind Great Inventions | TED Talk by Steven Johnson

The flute was invented 40,000 years ago, carved from a bone. Although the early human who created the flute had some pretty huge problems to deal with — the constant threat of attack being one of them — they spent their time inventing an item to play and create music with. This theme has repeated itself throughout history — huge inventions originate with a desire to play or create something fun.

Steve Johnson’s video for TED explores the role of play in innovation and invention, revealing the surprising roots of many technological advances.

Play has a pretty loose definition, but in my mind it overlaps with the concept of flow — the feeling of being totally absorbed in an activity. I feel like the observations from this video fit well with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s suggestion that we perform our best when we’re enjoying ourselves. Rather than trying to enforce innovation through external incentives, the key may instead be to promote play and the joy of discovering new things.