Fostering Deep Insight through Substantive Play

by Ben Zweibelson

Chapter 6 of: Design Thinking: Applications for the Australian Defence Force, ed. Aaron P. Jackson (Joint Studies Paper Series, No. 3; Canberra: Australian Defence Publishing Service, 2019).

Have you ever been stumped while trying to solve a problem? So instead, you’ve stopped trying for a while and gone to do something else, such as going for a run, taking a shower, or winding down in some other mundane way. Then, suddenly, you have an ‘aha moment’ and see a way to solve the problem that you had never considered before? In design thinking, this occurrence could be said to constitute a form of emergence through unintentional disruption of the existing frame. In this chapter, Ben Zweibelson explores this phenomena and a possible means of deliberately achieving it during military design and planning activities. This means is called ‘substantive play’, which is exactly what the name makes it sound like: taking time to stop designing or planning and play for a while. Not only can this activity be easily added to most existing design methodologies but Zweibelson also recounts two instances of it having been successfully tested during design education courses at Canadian Forces College and the U.S. Joint Special Operations University.

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