Are you coming 
out to play?

Sven Rieckmann, Creative Director at Peter Schmidt Group, about the future of creative collaboration – and why play is so conducive to innovation.

“Will you come and play with me?” Is this how you would address your client's marketing director? No? I didn't expect so. Among adults it sounds childish, unserious and unprofessional. The German efficiency ethic doesn't allow for leaving the hamster wheel. We're not here to have fun. But I say, “Oh yes we are!” Especially in companies whose most important resource is creativity, it's high time we faced challenges with an open mind, curiosity, and courage. Because defensive reactions are the death of innovative ideas.


Promoting innovation through play

The communication tasks facing agencies and their clients are becoming increasingly complex. More touchpoints, individual needs that are constantly changing, crises around the world, increased competition, and the supposed omnipotence of AI – the challenge is to become more agile and more productive by integrating new processes and tools into everyday working life. But how can we get employees to see innovation as an opportunity instead of freezing in fear? The answer lies in playing together in a real place. 

 Like kids at a playground.

We view our workshop and inspiration platform – the Elephant Campus  – as the best example of the positive effects of playful experimentation on site. It's our safe space, and we meet there for a few days, several times a year, to creatively let ourselves go.

The different technologies are not the main focus. Rather, it's the joy of playing that inspires us to imagine, to try out, to give it all we've got with no expectations, just to go with our gut feelings. This is how we approach problems and workshops tasks: We just feed in a few prompts, then laugh ourselves silly about the nonsense output – and start over again. 

After all, play is closely linked with a positive error culture. It makes learning fun! And play can do more than that. It not only dispels our fear of challenges, we are also less distracted. We're in the flow! And focused on one topic. That makes our work more efficient.


Discovering talents through play

It's a familiar situation: There's that one colleague who always works alone and never talks much. An introvert. Maybe shy. Not the kind of personality we generally expect to be a game changer. Until that person comes up with a solution that blows everyone away. 

It's not the first time I've made this observation, but since we launched our Elephant Campus I've seen it more and more often. Why? In our Safety Zone, everything is allowed, so new group dynamic emerge. But not just that. Everyone is able to experiment at their own pace. This allows the quiet people to be loud for a change. Our task as organizers involves creating the right atmosphere where hidden talents can come to the fore. It's about finding the right balance between pressure and leeway, between disputation and introspection. Between applause and coaching.  

As a result, after the Elephant Campus, teams have emerged like The Gymnaistics, who are testing the limits of the new tools on their own initiative and have achieved wonderful results in a very short space of time.

@thegymnaistics prompt with MidJourney and post their results on Instagram.

Driving brands forward through play

But it's not just our employees who have come to appreciate playing. This approach has also proven effective in our dealings with clients, when we transfer our processes and experience from the Campus workshops to real-life brand work. That's why we kick off our projects with interactive ambition sessions. We find out whether a corporate design will work by experimenting and playing around with it together. 

Getting the company's employees involved is crucial in brand work. Not only to make customers feel like they're part of the brand story, but also to clear the path for bold approaches, open up new perspectives, and awaken curiosity about what awaits us in the future of brand work. The game's not over yet – we've only just started playing!


The five superpowers of playing

Focus instead of distraction
Courage instead of fear
Opportunities instead of mistakes
Interaction instead of isolation
Diversity instead of monotony 

For more impressions from out first Elephant Campus and interviews with AI and design experts, download this PDF. For interviews with speakers from the second edition, visit us on Instagram.

Meet the author

Creative Director

Mail to Sven