Operations at Play

by John Angelis on October 9th, 2013

As part of the pre-INFORMS festivities, I took in a talk by Barry Kudrowitz, a professor of product design at the University of Minnesota, on the role of play in innovation. Part of the presentation involved an audience challenge where we were asked to figure out as many uses as possible for a paper clip. Barry went on to survey us on whether we had seen the exercise as work or play. As you might have guessed, those who saw the exercise as work had fewer ideas than those who saw it as play. However, would the detailed work needed for operations benefit from a playful approach?

There seems to be a disconnect between words like “play” “creativity” “improvisation”, and the STEM fields. We certainly know colleagues (or ourselves) who are filled with joy when they discuss their research, or show great passion in the classroom. But, there’s also a sense that improvisation is the enemy of rigor and the scientific method. Perhaps, as well, words like “play” sound too immature and informal.

So then, what are your thoughts on playfulness and creativity in Operations? Have you found that a more light approach to your research and teaching improve your work, or lower your efficiency?

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