Conferences Can Serve As Friendly Frontiers For The Insatiably Curious To Play

Tug of War

Your conference could be a place for your customers to experience unrestricted curiosity and play.

But most of the time it’s not. Curiosity becomes codified into bureaucratic traditional expert-centric instructional models—lectures and panel discussions. And that passive sedentary process actually controls and squelches most curious thinking. And forget play!

Authentic curiosity does not come from an external force. It comes from within. Ultimately, curiosity serves as the gateway to wanting to learn. And play acts as curiosity’s engagement tool.

Play Is Biologically Driven Regardless The Age

Curiosity and play are necessities you can’t afford to avoid at your conference.

“…Play is a basic biological necessity that has survived through the evolution of the brain. And necessity=importance,” says pioneer play researcher Dr. Stuart Brown. His research shows play is not just joyful and energizing — it’s deeply involved with human development and intelligence.

Highly creative and successful individuals have a rich play life says Brown. It affects our mental and physical health as well as our cognitive functions. Those adults that have lost their sense of youthful play exhibit social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, can’t handle stress, and frequently experience depression he says. At its basic level, our need to play–even as adults—is biologically driven.

Creating Conference Spitball Shooting Participants

Brown points to the New York Times headlines of memories of 9-11 victims as evidence of how strongly we identify ourselves through our play. These headlines included “A Spitball Shooting Executive,” and “A Lover Of Laughter.”

Play is who we are. Our conferences should schedule more programming to allow our participants to be who they are through play. We need to program activities where participants can engage in water balloon bombing, dress up role playing and spitball shooting. Just think about a network session where participants are encourage to come dressed as their inner super hero. That would encourage play and curiosity at its basic level.

Fostering More Conference Curiosity And Play Hygiene

Most of us have forgotten what it was like to lose ourselves in deep play as kids. Some of us don’t even have experience with that free play. Helicopter parents scheduled us in controlled, orderly, arranged, directed activities like sports or academic affairs.

Learning, regardless of our age, should not be a burden or drudgery. It should be driven by our curiosity. Learning should be fun and playful.

Authentic deep play promotes true intellectual curiously. It increases lifetime performance, just as adequate recess time leads to increased long term academic accomplishments says Brown.

Conference organizers should control and deescalate their anxieties about maximizing every minute of every conference to deliver content and expertise. That doesn’t increase innovation, creativity, insights or learning. Quite the opposite. Our over-scheduled conference agenda with every minute devoted to lectures and panels fosters control and compliance. When we do not create adult white space to think or play, our participants default to copycat faux innovations from the experts.

We need to engage in conference playful curiosity-filled hygiene where adults can safely explore new ideas, unscripted ambitions and innovative insights. The play-less conference becomes academic sterile and develops stereotypical, inflexible, humorless, pessimistic, stress-filled humanoids, to paraphrase Brown.

So go ahead and give it a try. Your conference can become a friendly frontier for curiosity and play!

Where have you seen deep play, where adults get lost in time with the experience, at conferences? How do you feel as an adult when you allow yourself to engage in curiosity and play?

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1 comment
  1. Mary says:

    Great article. You make a really important point about play, and creating a conference that encourages exploration and learning in a no-pressure environment is essential for anyone to feel truly free to play. Simple choices in lighting, music, presentation media (video and slideshows), can all be tailored to provide more of a welcoming atmosphere, that moves away from the stuffy conference space where conference goers are getting talked at all day. IT all boils down to choices that encourage communication and curiosity! Thanks for sharing your insight.

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