Play and Get To Work


I remember as a kid spending several summer days digging a large pit in the field behind our home. It was about 6 feet deep, 5 feet wide and 10 feet long. Laying tin sheets across the opening and covering them with dirt we made our first “man cave”. Now if my math is right, that’s 300 cubic feet of soil my cousin and I dug up to make our hideout. Were we hard at work? No. We were hard at play. During our play we learned a lot about the fickle nature of south Georgia sandy soil and how to “shore up” the sides. We learned about load bearing structures and how being below ground made for a cooler place to play in the Savannah summer heat. We also learned about how the underground water table will rise after a long rain and turn you fort into a shallow muddy swimming pool.

As a teenager, if my father had asked me to dig a burn pit the same size, I would have considered it quite a bit of work. It would have been the same effort, but in one case it was hard play and the other it was hard work. Side note: Our fort eventually became a burn pit for leaves and was covered up before winter.

Earlier this week I came across the video below from Stephen Johnson. Several years ago, his TED talk and associated book on “Where Good Ideas Come From” caused me to reconsider the environment for innovation. Likewise this more recent video proposes a link between play and innovation. Take a few minutes, view this video and then read on.

For several months now I’ve been playing with a Cognitoy Dino. For anyone unfamiliar with this marvelous toy, check out their video:

Last year I purchased a couple of the first toys produced. I gave one to my 5 year old grandson and I kept the other for myself. The Dino is connected to the Elemental Path and IBM’s Watson. I’ve playfully experimented with how this toy reacts to questions and commands. Through play, I’ve pondered a number of issues and ideas around the possibilities. Earlier this week I was giving a keynote speech at a large insurance provider. I used my Dino to show how Watson was helping kids be more curious and creative in their own educational journey and asked the audience to imagine what how Watson might help their workforce and customers be more curious and innovative. Some in the audience were experts in the areas of risk and security. So it was no surprise that one attendee approached me after the session to ask, “What happens when the kid asks the Dino, ‘Can you keep a secret?'” Great question, so I simply asked the Dino. His response was, “I suggest telling a secret to an adult you trust.” That is one example of an answer handled by Elemental Path’s experience in helping kids in a learning environment. Another case of this is the question “Where do babies come from?” Now the information is available to answer that question but the response from the Dino is “Dinosaur Eggs. At least that is what I’ve been told. You should speak to an adult.”

The Cognitoy Dino can challenge the child with questions, help them be creative by making up stories and challenge them in math. Considered out of context, this quizing could be considered “hard work”, but instead it’s playful and fun. We seem to recognize openly that kids learn through play. Perhaps we should consider Steven Johnson’s insights and encourage ourselves and those around us to “play and get to work”.

And for anyone wishing to purchase their own Cognitoy Dino, they are available at ToysRUs and as well as If you use the Cognitoys site, feel free to use promotion code “IBM10” to receive an additional $10 discount on your purchase.

Note: I am not associated with Elemental Path or Cognitoys and do not receive any consideration or benefits for promoting their products.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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