Skillsoft Blog

The Power of Play and Curiosity in Driving Value

Shawn Hunter

In 1943, Richard James was a naval
engineer trying to develop a meter designed to monitor horsepower on naval
battleships. Richard was working with different types of tension springs when
one of the springs fell to the ground. And after it fell to the ground, it kept
moving as if stepping away. Astonished and delighted by the odd movement, he
immediately thought this would make a fun toy for a child. He had just
discovered the slinky.

Swiss chemist Jacques E.
Brandenberger was sitting at a restaurant one day in 1900 when he watched a
glass of wine spill and seep slowly into the tablecloth. His thought in the
moment was: wouldn’t it be better to have a kind of coating to the cloth that
would prevent absorption, so it would be easy to clean up. He spent the next
ten years of his life working on this side project to invent what is now called

Some cool innovations are
recognized immediately, while others are conceptualized and take years of
persistence of realize. Yet there are two primary ingredients that pervade
accidental innovation: Curiosity and Play.

Or to put it another way, these
were non-commissioned works by an artist.

Almost twenty years ago, Harvard
Business School professor Teresa Amabile
and her colleagues conducted an interesting study. They asked 23 artists to
randomly select 10 of their commissioned works and 10 of their non-commissioned
works. They then took the 460 works of art to a space where they could be
evaluated by a team of art curators, historians, and experts – all of whom had
not been told which was commissioned (paid) art, and which art was created at
the self-direction and initiation of the artist

Amabile and her colleagues reported:

“Our results were quite
startling…the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than
the non-commissioned works, yet they were not rated as different in technical

In other words, it was the
non-commissioned, self-directed art that was found to be more creative,
interesting and valuable. Go, conceive and create, undirected, non-commissioned

Teresa Amabile
is a contributor within Skillsoft’s leadership solutions. For more information
on how to build foundational skills, click

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