Play to Win


For a mathematical genius, Einstein sure spent a lot of time playing the violin. Didn’t he feel pressed to run back to his chalkboard? Wasn’t he supposed to be figuring out time travel so we could all go back and choose better prom outfits?  Weren’t some of the most powerful people in the world waiting for his smart-guy answers to complicated questions?  Einstein was, in fact, employing a technique he dubbed “Combinatory Play” to supercharge his Jedi mental multi-tasking.

Simply expressed, Combinatory Play is turning from a concept or problem and engaging in another task, preferably something repetitious and enjoyable. This pulls the focus away from the issue at hand. Your subconscious will continue to puzzle out solutions, but occupying your rational left hemisphere allows your creative mind to wander and frolic at different angles and perspectives, creating new pathways that can connect a whole new set of dots to the “Aha!” moment of discovery. Einstein felt that it is an “essential feature in productive thought” and in reference to his Theory of Relativity famously quipped “I thought of that while I was riding my bicycle.” It also explains why inspiration always seems to strike while you’re in the shower.  I recommend bathing with a stenographer.


Consider George de Mestral, Swiss inventor of the hook-and-loop fastener.  An electrical engineer, de Mestral already possessed a mechanical, logical mindset with a natural curiosity about how things worked, the same way you might have an affinity for HTML code or American Horror Story.  But it wasn’t until he returned from a hunting trip with his dog, away from the slide rules and pocket protectors of his daily office life that he noticed the burdock burrs sticking to his clothes and his companion’s fur.  Further examination revealed a surface containing hundreds of hooks that caught on anything with a loop. To the delight of children’s sneaker manufacturers everywhere, de Mestral used this concept to create Velcro.  An empire built from a walk in the woods.

I use writing with my clients to allow for the unfocused daydreaming that creates a context for latent, subconscious thoughts to rise to the surface and form new roadways toward tangible goals, but anything will do. Practicing your putting, drawing, cleaning the oven, macrame, line dancing, the New York Times crossword puzzle or a jump on a trampoline will give your mind room to work and play and find the solutions you seek.  Feeding your soul with fun and balancing your hard work is a nice gravy on top of the brilliant discoveries that lay within your creative mind. How nice to know it’s only a bike ride away.

Jason Martello