The tools of mass creation

My earliest experiences of computers were as them being tools of creativity, and that’s framed my use of them ever since.

The BBC Micro didn’t really do much unless you gave it fairly comprehensive instructions. Sure, they could be used to play pre-bought games, but in the very early days the thing came with a manual that gave instruction on how to take control. I learned to program it as a result.

In my later teens I started to play around with electronic music, using an Atari ST (with it’s built in MIDI ports) to compose and play. At university I had access to Apple Macs in the Student Union offices to start to explore the possibilities of desktop publishing and design with Quark Xpress and PageMaker. Through much of my professional career computers have been used to create things as well as process numbers.

On but a very few occasions I have had the experience of a locked down corporate computing environment. It’s felt like working with both hands tied behind my back and my eyes blindfolded. But I realise that my own experiences of the use of computers aren’t those of everyone’s. That the tinkering that comes naturally for me (because it’s what I’ve always done, and to a great extent I come from a family of tinkerers), that allows me to explore new ways of doing things, is something that doesn’t come naturally to others.

Technology should be something at our bidding. Too often, especially in the corporate world, it’s an instrument of granular control.

But, as I’ll be exploring more in the coming months, for us individually, and for organizations collectively, the route to finding how this stuff comes to allow us to do things better starts with giving people the space, the motivation and the confidence to play. To experiment. To try things out, and without necessarily having a defined measurable return on investment in mind.

The biggest barrier to innovation with technology are people for whom the only question is “Yes, but what does it do?”. Innovation comes from those who can ask “What can I make this do?”

I’m writing a book about the role of play in business. It’s the early stages – I have a bit of a plan, a list of people who I want to talk to, and potentially someone who can help me find a publisher. The plan for the book is here. If you want to find out more or feel you can help, drop me a line.

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