Albert Einstein called one of his paths to inspiration, combinatory
play. To be effective in thinking outside the box, you have to play in multiple
boxes. He called the act of combinatory play – opening up one mental channel by
dabbling in others. Einstein believes combinatory play was “an essential
feature in productive thought.”
Einstein played –the violin to help him make new mental
connections. He often experienced a flash of insight or inspiration when playing
at something else. These flashes, those “Eureka” moments, generate energy and
allow you to move ideas or yourself forward. He felt stepping away from the intensity of one problem into
something else lets your mind wander and pays off.
Combinatory play rests and recharges your mental connections. It also means you give yourself the license to participate in combinatory play. Let stressors and urgencies of today become a passenger in the car instead of letting them always be the driver.
The combined stresses of the pandemic have been a source of burnout, sapping energy, and motivation for many. Work has become hard. But combinatory play generates motion – If you cannot do one thing, try another. Motion beats stuck any day. Inspiration, motivation, and a positive shift in mindset are fed from motion.
What are some ways to include combinatory play?
The first place to start is your hobbies. Have you made time for your hobbies in the past six months? Or are you so busy doing other things your hobbies have taken a back seat? Giving yourself control over how you spend your time is liberating and helps manage your stress level. Perhaps this is reading a book, walking in the park, or volunteering at a dog shelter.
But maybe you are an artist—you make things. You could paint, write, sew, build furniture, or create in a thousand other ways. Art is defined by you as the person and not what others think. Take the risk and call your making, ART. Making as a process creates energy, inspiration, and motivation. It is also the foundation of creativity.
What are you curious about?
What are those burning but perhaps nonsensical questions you have not yet investigated? What else do you want to know? Could you spend ten minutes today answering your burning question? And then, tomorrow, could you add ten minutes more to enrich your understanding? Think about ways you can immerse yourself in your curiosity. Is it combining a field trip or experience to make your understanding more three-dimensional?
Perhaps you create a top ten list of things to know more about or experience each year. Completing our top ten list becomes a fun journey, especially when you can include others. These experiences and learning can be exciting and fuel your energy and motivation. But these facts and experiences also become embedded in your thinking and offer new insights you can remix and repurpose later.
Perform from another frame of reference.
Have you considered taking on the role of another as they consider a situation or event? To think from another’s perspective means you must let go of yours for a while. What are the questions they need to have answered; what is important to them? By taking this approach, you are limiting the focus on yourself and your needs. Sometimes, this break in character can jump-start your inspiration or provide the motivation you need to think differently.
One of the most famous historical examples of combinatory play involves Archimedes, an ancient Greek mathematician and inventor. He discovered the principle of buoyancy while taking a bath. While you might not have Einstein or Archimedes outcomes, the premise of combinatory play matters. Let your inner genius step out to play!