COVID-19, parenting, and the illusion of control
In the second part of this three-part series, Clixo founder Assaf shares his experience and insight on why trying to control play and creativity is foolish.
How many of you feel in control these days? If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent your adult life paying lip service to a buddhism-esque mantra that we’re not really in control of things, but secretly you’ve thought you’re the exception to the rule. Bad things happen to other people. Plans come crashing down on those who don’t safeguard themselves well enough. But not you–you will emerge victorious and gracefully in control!
With the arrival of COVID-19, no one can lie to themselves anymore about just how little control we have–just how easily the world can turn on its head. It’s a terrifying and stark reminder that life very rarely colors between the lines.
In this series of blogs, I’ve been trying to make use of some of the reflection time I’ve had during COVID-19, and share my thoughts on how it relates to the realm of design, toys, and play.
One of the big ideas I keep returning to is how as adults we have this white-knuckled grip on life, especially when we deeply care about things (like our children). We don’t want them to just play–we want them to play the most, the best, have the most fun, make the most creative things, learn the most they possibly can. But the simple fact of the matter is that when we approach creativity and play with that perspective, we are completely missing the point. You can’t control creativity. You can’t control play. What makes them so essential to childhood (and, let’s be honest, to adulthood too), is the fact that they resist linear, predictable development. Play is at its best when it is unexpected, when it breaks down boundaries, when we let our imaginations and intuitions take over.
There’s an assignment I frequently give undergraduate students to try and get them back into this space of ‘uncontrolled’ creativity. By the age of 18, most people have already trained themselves to think there’s a right or wrong way to do things, and that the goal is to control yourself and the world around you as much as possible, so as to perform the ‘right’ way as much as you can. It’s a difficult habit to break. So I give my students an assignment they can’t google. An assignment that seems ridiculous, but which forces them to think in new ways.
“I want you to come up with a way to move a cloud from New York to London,” I tell them. This is usually followed by crickets, some anxious questions, and a fearful silence as the students exit the class. But by the following week, when everyone has presented their often humorous and always extremely creative ideas, we’ve broken through into a new space.
“At Clixo, we’ve worked long and hard to develop a tool for creativity that puts all of the ‘control’ back in the hands of children. By control we don’t mean something rigid, but rather the opposite. We want kids who pick up Clixo to be immediately invited in, but not told there is a ‘right’ direction to go in. In fact, the goal–if there is a goal for Clixo–is for it to never reach a final form. As soon as something is created, we hope for it to be broken down and turned into something new.”
It can be counter-intuitive in the current day and age to correlate endless process rather than outcome with value, but it is indeed the cornerstone of creativity and all the good that creative engagement brings with it.
So next time you set out to build a giraffe with your kid and they turn the head into a helicopter, we encourage you to congratulate, rather than try to rein them in. Let go of your illusions of control. It’ll do you–and your kids–a world of good.