A friend posted a link on her facebook page that caught my eye yesterday. The article describes how gamers have helped to solve a puzzle in AIDS research that had stumped scientists for years. As a final (creative) solution to understanding the structure of a retrovirus protein (necessary for creating an effective treatment) "researchers at the  University of Washington turned to Foldit, a program created by the university a few years ago that transforms problems of science into competitive computer games, and challenged players to use their three-dimensional problem-solving skills to build accurate models of the protein.

With(in) days, the gamers generated models good enough for the researchers to refine into an accurate portrayal of the enzyme's structure. What's more, the scientists identified parts of the molecule that are likely targets for drugs to block the enzyme." You can read the full post here.

Don't you love that play succeeded where serious research and investigation failed? And not only did the solution come quickly (after only three weeks), but everyone involved had a blast trying to figure it out.

If you can't make your work be an extension of your play, then you can become playful at work. In a TEDS talk, Tim Brown discusses the  connection between creativity and play. In his, and other innovative companies, creating a culture of play is a necessity. It takes people out of traditional ways of seeing and organizing things and allows for out of the box thinking.

I wonder how many of us remember how to be playful? It's so easy as children, but as we grow, we seem to think of reasons not to play, to be more productive, to take things seriously. Children look for ways to play; they don't have to motivated to spend time
doing things that bring them joy. Maybe the way forward as a culture is to actually take things less seriously. To lighten up, and free ourselves to more creatively engage in the world around us. The reality is, play is actually a really great way facilitate effective problem solving AND creativity, and I'm guessing it produces a lot less stress on our
bodies and relationships. Choosing to play may not be "childish" after all, just childlike - a gift that little children (and adult gamers) can bring to us.

(While looking for a picture illustrating this post, I came across this one of my nieces (and neighborhood child) shucking corn. I was reminded that my mom has always felt that work was play. To her, the camaraderie of being together and getting a task done was a pleasurable thing. This photo illustrates that family value - making "work" fun. Thanks, Mom.)