Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review of The Business Playground

A book review by: David Eyman
Buffalo State College

The business playground
Sweet dreams are made of this creative joy!  The Business Playground is an enjoyable, easy-to-read collection of creativity stories and tools designed to help readers in promoting creative thinking.  This book speaks mainly to business-professionals, yet would be beneficial for the layperson or creativity-curious reader.  In twelve unique chapters (235 pages) the authors have conveyed much of the current thinking on both innate and prompted creativity in an entertaining and playful way.  Each chapter holds a creativity game that embodies a thinking tool, and readers are invited to read the book as if playing a board game.  “Move one space forward to the next chapter… or roll the dice” (Stewart & Simmons, 2010, p. 149) demonstrates how the authors have integrated the playful nature of creativity into both the big picture and details of presented materials.    

Authors Mark Simmons, a branding expert, and Dave Stewart, a musician who achieved fame through his partnership with Annie Lennox in The Eurythmics, prove their outstanding ability to entertain throughout the book.  Although The Business Playground is a non-fiction reference book, it sometimes reads more like fiction with richly decorated stories and metaphorical language.  More specifically, there is a casual undertone that rises above the sterility present in some scholarly books on creativity.  While this tone may feel a bit pedestrian at first glance, the work is cited and referenced adequately to validate that the recommended tools have been built atop credible, if not academic, frameworks.

In its entirety, the book is a game about bringing creative thinking to business through fun.  Tools and stories presented in the book are designed to make a case for how “play” in business will yield more creative thinking.  In the introduction, Simmons and Stewart assert, “Most businesses just aren’t designed for creativity.  Instead, they tend to be efficient machines with established processes, systems, and rules that allow little flexibility for the more unstructured thought that is necessary for ideas to form and flourish” (p. Xv).  The Business Playground is a direct reaction to this statement with a solid case for change, tools that inspire change, and stories of successful integration.

The authors present each section as a board game space that allows the reader to find tools appropriate to what they are confronting in the moment.  With chapter titles such as “Idea Spaghetti,” “Left Brain, Meet Mr. Right,” “Far Out,” “Kill the Idea,” and “Blast Off,” perusing each game tile is consistent with the spirit of fun the authors are promoting.  Inside each chapter is a smaller set of games that spur new thinking, help develop ideas, and help the reader with solution selection. 

Chapter one builds a solid case for creative thinking based on stories and experiences.  Chapters two through ten offer playful methods for ideational thinking through tools that have been taken from other processes and redesigned in the spirit of fun.  Chapter eleven offers methods of selecting ideas, convergent thinking, and refinement with tools such as “Kill the Idea”, and “What I See Myself Doing."  Chapter twelve describes constructing a creative environment and planning for successful implementation of selected ideas.  In sum, The Business Playground covers all stages of the creative process with the overlay of playfulness, humor, and fun.

Some of the tools presented in The Business Playground can be readily recognized as spirited adaptations of other tools from other creative process methodologies: brainstorming, storyboarding collaging, several variations on forced connections, incubation, excursions, reframing, and far too many others to list here.  The results of careful attention to adding a play element to each tool is useful in bringing the playground to work.  In addition to the classic proven techniques, Stewart and Simmons bring a bit of themselves to this extensive list of creativity tools.  They make a case for the foundations that support these tools with rich and colorful personal stories.  To support the importance of humor in the workplace, Stewart describes creatively resolving a film director’s frustrated block with:  “I went out of the studio, put on a woman’s dress and earrings, burst back into the studio and insisted on dancing with Paul” (Stewart & Simmons, 2010, p. 171).

While the reader can appreciate the overlay of lightness and playfulness, an occasional undertone of ego emerges as the authors parade their life histories.  In one instance, Stewart avows that a defibrillator led him to even greater creative ability: “Actually, dying and being brought back to life was like being plugged into an electric socket that pumps creative energy into your veins”  (Stewart & Simmons, 2010, p. 162). Regardless, Stewart and Simmons have a credible history of creative accomplishments, that which gives them every right to flaunt their creativity skills and suggest methods with which to work.  Without peppering the book with tales of their greatness, we may not give nearly the credence due to such a casually and playfully written work.  This tone is truly successful in engaging the reader, despite the few eye-rolling swaggers.

Books on the topics of innovation and creativity in the workplace have become plentiful in the past decade.  For anyone seeking a light methodology or one wishing to integrate more fun into their work, The Business Playground is an easy- to- read and easy- to- integrate book selection.  Above that reasoning, those who loved Eurythmics music will certainly find this as a welcome addition to their knowledge of induced creativity practice through the memorability of Stewart’s name alone. 

Stewart, D., & Simmons, M. (2010). The business playground: Where creativity and commerce collide. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

About David Eyman: 
David Eyman is a seasoned creativity practitioner, consultant, and facilitator.  With 25 years of creative endeavors ranging from Industrial Design leadership, consumer product innovation, and executive coaching for creative professionals, David has a unique three-dimensional understanding of the processes that generates authentic innovation.  David holds a holds a Bachelor of Science, Industrial Design degree from the University of Cincinnati, and is pursuing a Masters of Science in Creative Studies at the ICSC at SUNY, Buffalo State campus.  

**Looking for more books on creativity? Visit the ICSC Amazon Bookstore

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