Out Of Gas


A while back, I was driving home with my young son in the back of the car, when I saw a car pulled over under the freeway overpass and a young black man standing by it, talking on the phone. Many thoughts ran quickly through my head – I’m white and he’s black, what does that mean in terms of safety if I stop? I’m middle-aged, he’s young, would that affect what happens if I stop? Should I ignore him as not my problem? Is that the kind of example I want to be to my son?

I decided to pull over and ask if he was ok. He said he ran out of gas on his way to his second job. He said he had a gas can and asked if I’d mind getting him some gas. He even gave me money to cover it. I took the can and drove to the closest gas station I knew of, then drove back and handed him the gas and the change. He wanted to pay me something, or at least do me a favor in return, but didn’t know what to do. I told him to pay it forward, to help someone else in need some time in the future. I’ve certainly been helped when I needed it. (Remind me to tell you about arriving in Italy with no Lira on a Sunday when the banks were closed and needing to pee desperately, and not having a way to use the paid toilets…)

The rest of the day I felt a glow inside. I did something good for someone! I helped out someone in trouble, got him moving again. And there was a piece of me that was ashamed of the moment of fear I felt about stopping to help someone darker than me. (Frankly, with how pale my skin is, most white people are darker than me, but that’s another story.) I don’t want to live in a world where I even think about someone’s skin color before I stop to help them. I’m glad that this interaction went so well, there was gratitude and kindness and no one pretending to be in trouble to lure in unsuspecting victims. (Man, an active imagination can be a bitch sometimes.) Most of all, I’m glad I showed my son that kindness doesn’t cost anything and can make the world better.


How to Justify Play as a Grownup


Study after study has shown us that children learn through play. Children learn what their bodies can do by running and jumping and climbing. Children learn how to relate with their peers by playing let’s pretend and tag and hide and seek. Children learn physics from building with blocks, and language arts from telling stories.

If play is so good for children, why don’t grownups do it? Do we think we know everything there is about how to get along with our peers? Do we feel our bodies need a fitness regimen rather than free play? Or is it that play has a reputation as something childish, so if we play as adults we have to call it something appropriately serious, like prototyping or scientific investigation?

Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the  Soul, and founder of the National Institute for Play, doesn’t see play and work as opposites. Instead, he sees depression as the opposite of play. He writes “The beneficial effects of getting just a little true play can spread through our lives, actually making us more productive and happier in everything we do.” Further, he claims “(play) is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder – in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life.”

The next time someone suggests a game to play at work, or comes up with a way to play together for team building, rather than rolling your eyes and wishing HR would stop it with the stupid forced socialization, see if you can find something fun in it. Someone is trying to inject a little bit of fun into the work world, and there might just be some benefit to you in that.

Brain Games


You’re stuck in traffic. You’re bored. What do you do?

I’ve been playing the license plate game.  The rules are: Make a word out of the letters on a license plate. Letters in the word must be in the same order as on the license plate, but they don’t have to be next to each other. Proper nouns don’t count (unless there are no other words, in which case I usually let it slide). Cooler words are worth more points, but the points don’t really matter.

marksman. smirk.

pleistocene. plastic. pitcher. spastic. sportcaster.

boyfriend. beefier. subfreezing.

BSJ? What the heck works with BSJ? Those are the letters on my own license plate, and I was very distressed that I couldn’t make a word out of my own letters. My Dad finally came up with a kind of dog: Basenji. Whew.

Coming up with lots of words helps work the creativity muscle. Having lots of diverging ideas is critical to brainstorming and problem solving. This kind of game helps you practice coming up with new ideas, and letting your mind work on a problem while you’re also concentrating on something else, like driving. Or listening to others in a meeting. It’s also kind of fun.

I hope these games don’t drive you crazy. When I started coming up with words from license plates, I found it was hard to stop. Every single set of letters had to be made into words. Lots of words! Had to!! Can’t stop!!! Participle! Particulate!! Participate!!! Patrician!!!! (But it was still better than being bored while sitting in traffic.)

Creativity Games

Why should grownups play?

Non-competitive play is relaxing, brings people together, causes laughter and lowers blood pressure, and increases creativity. Increased creativity means new solutions to difficult problems, possibly the next break-through idea or way to fix society.

If your team, family, group, or club needs to come up with more creative ideas, games that  exercise the creativity muscle – especially ones that help with divergent thinking (coming up with more and different ideas) –  can help. Plus they’re fun. Here’s one:


One of these things is not like the others!

These four words were selected at random. Any four words would work. Unlike when Sesame Street showed us an apple, orange, banana, and bicycle, there is no right answer for which of these is different or why. It’s a game to stretch our brains.

Apt is the odd one out because it’s the only mono-syllabic word.

Spatula is the odd one out because it can’t be vigorous or a fruit bat. A fruit bat can be vigorous  or apt, apt can apply to fruit bat or vigorous, vigorous can apply to fruit bat or apt.

Fruit-bat is the odd one because it’s hyphenated.

Fruit-bat is the odd one because it’s the only one that doesn’t come up in day to day conversation where I live.

Any and all of these answers are right and good. There is no wrong or bad! I’d love to see some of your answers. What do you think?

This is a game you can do while waiting for people to show up at a meeting. The first four people can each supply a random word, and then you can play with it until everyone is there and you can start. Long car rides can be lightened with games like this. More on car games in another post! And more creativity games will come later, too. In the mean time, have fun and think divergently!


Diversity of Thinking

Know what this is?


This is the diversity of thinking within your group, made concrete. Each of these models came from the same packet of bricks and the same instructions: Build a tower. All five towers look different. This is because everyone brings their own ideas, experiences, likes and dislikes, feelings, and thoughts to everything they do, and when they are encouraged to bring themselves into the group, they can come up with creative and interesting ideas.

However, many of the creative ideas never get voiced. When your boss expects your tower to look like his because you have the same materials and instructions, you eventually stop trying to make your own tower and just ask what he wants. When your teacher at school, or your parents at home, continually told you that your tower should look a certain way, you probably stopped making your own tower and did what they wanted.

Once the habit of bringing ourselves to what we do gets squashed, it can be hard to bring it back. When the manager who says “build it this way” comes to you and asks you to “think outside the box,” does that feel safe? Even though there is this amazing diversity of thinking in our groups, we often end up saying the same things because we want to keep our jobs, be liked, not be attacked, fit in with the group, not rock the boat, etc. It gets so that it can be hard to even find the creative thinking inside ourselves.

My solution to that: Play! Set up situations where there is no right or wrong answer, no possibility to fail, and practice working those creativity muscles. More on that in another post.

In the mean time – appreciate the diversity of thinking all around you!