Thursday, May 22, 2008


Smiling jumper George Smoot, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for
helping to prove that the universe originated with the Big Bang, knows the
importance of unpredictable exploration in both work and play.

I was invited to speak and screen clips from JUMP! at the biennial Art Center Design Conference in Pasadena, California -- a 3-day international gathering of entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and innovators. The 2008 Conference, themed Serious Play, explored the important role of play in business, the arts, science, technology, and more. We were such a synergistic match!

There was an absolutely extraordinary group of speakers (more below)-- utterly inspiring and also intimidating, actually. This was one of the coolest events I have ever attended and it was truly an honor to be a part of this amazing program.

Target sponsored me and 4 jumpers featured in the film -- Kelsy & Lee from the Summerwind Skippers in Idaho and Nick & Jeff from the Houston-based team RazzMaTazz. The jumpers were surprise performers on the opening evening and then entertainers and teachers that night and the following day. They stole the show! I mainly spoke about collaboration and obsession...both that of the jumpers and my own.

The Master of Ceremonies, journalist John Hockenberry, asked what it was about me that was drawn to the main subject of my film, competitive jump rope. It was a personal question, situating my sensibilities at the center of it. I answered the question too quickly, spinning my answer to what I could most easily address in that moment: why jumpers are attracted to the sport and what they are learning thru it. As soon as I walked off stage, I wished that I had given a more revealing response that was linked to the "Serious Play" gist of the conference.

In addition to what I did say, I would have liked to have answered something to the effect of: I was initially drawn to competitive jump rope because I was captivated by the exuberant creativity, athleticism and obsession of the kids – and that they all seemed so unbelievably happy. The motto of the sport is “sharing and caring” and I could see that thru jump rope, they were having fun while learning to truly value fearless determination, collaboration and innovation – qualities that we learn as kids and often struggle to maintain as adults. Watching the kids define their successes by these traits intrigued and inspired me. And frankly, I felt a bit jealous; as a person and as a filmmaker, I want to achieve more of all of this exuberance in my own life. The jumpers quickly became both a muse and a mirror. Making this documentary (my first) has caused me to reconsider what it means to be successful and also to embrace that challenge and risk are their own reward.

In the reddish light of the closing night party, this artist showed me
his sketches of several conference speakers (including me,
far right in the photo on the left, from the waist down) and the jumpers.

I loved what so many of the speakers had to say. Some notables were:

+ Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, whose studies found that "normal play behavior was virtually absent throughout the lives of highly violent, anti-social men." He believes that play is important for our survival and said that “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”
+ Aimee Mullins, an intellectual and physical marvel (pictured left) who said "You have to practice your curiosity like it’s a sport."
+ David Macaulay, whose forthcoming illustrated book explains our bodies, from the smallest cell on up, using metaphors like factories and rivers. He clearly communicates massively complex systems.
+ Joshua Klein's talk about the cultural adaption of crows and how they learn from each other. Watch this video!
+ Paula Scher, artist, distinguished serious (good, engaged) from solemn (bad, joyless)
+ Robert Lang, whose profound applications of origami are being applied to pressing contemporary problems of all stripes. Learn more about him here.

Early in the first night's presentations, Hockenberry, said something about the relationship of play to education in Plato's Republic which led me to this quote attributed to the ancient philosopher: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." Humm. We don't learn or practice play enough. I, for one, am going to start.


Anonymous said...

Hey everybody, it’s Lee from the Summerwind Skippers, finally getting into this whole blogging thing. Let me tell you about my latest adventure at the Serious Play convention. I HAD A BLAST. It was seriously like someone took all of my favorite hobbies growing up and put them together in one weekend for me. There were lectures about Origami, robotics, sleight of hand magic, Circus arts…the list goes on. I was able to meet lots of creative minds including a Nobel prize-winning Cosmologist and representatives from Lego, and we actually got some of them to jump with us. A big thank you to our sponsors for bringing us out to the convention, all the audience members who received our performances so well, and of course our brave volunteer jumpers who made the convention lots of fun for us. Till next time folks.


Anonymous said...

It was such an honor to be a part of such a prestigious conference. When we left for California, I really had no idea what the "Serious Play" conference was all about, but once we were there I was inspired and impressed by the other presenters/lecturers. Jump rope really did fit in perfectly with the theme of the conference: it's something that is both a serious sport and something that is fun! It was great to see people wanting to jump in the ropes and to receive such a gracious response to our performances. Thank to to Helen and Target for getting us there. Yet another great experience and fun time!

Summerwind Skippers

Anonymous said...

I love this post – totally kewl!!! Well done! I’m coming back to this one …