In the highly interesting New York Times Magazine article about play (of which I’m sure I’ll write more on later), there was a fascinating section about ‘false endpoints’:
Through play, an individual avoids what he called the lure of ‘‘false endpoints,’’ a problem-solving style more typical of harried adults than of playful youngsters. False endpoints are avoided through play, Bateson wrote, because players are having so much fun that they keep noodling away at a problem and might well arrive at something better than the first, good-enough solution.
If it’s not clear from the quote above, here’s what a false endpoint is: imagine you need to come up with a new advertising slogan for a chocolate bar. There’s no urgent deadline to it, and so you might work on it for a long time. However, if you’re a bit stressed out and the process of brainstorming the slogan isn’t fun, as soon as you come up with a slogan that’s just ‘good enough’ then you might call it a day and stop working. That’s a false endpoint; you could’ve come up with a much better slogan if the process was more fun – like play – and you’d kept working away on it.
I’ve never heard of false endpoints before, and I can’t find anything about the term on Google. I find it hard to believe that no-one has ever thought of the concept before, but perhaps no-one’s given it a name until now. In any case, it ought to be more widely studied.
In highly creative fields like storytelling and game design, where you have to work to deadlines and commercial demands mean that coming up with ideas aren’t that fun, there’s a real danger that you can fall into false endpoints – simply settling on a ‘good enough’ idea because you just want to move on. I’ve seen and experienced it myself. That’s why there are so many games are stories that are pretty good, but are lacking in certain very obvious ways.
I wonder whether incorporating play into the development process (not necessarily production, although I’m sure it would help to a degree there as well) of highly creative fields would demonstrably prevent or reduce false endpoints. The notion of introduction ‘fun’ into the workplace is not new, and deservedly groan-worthy, but perhaps making creative development not simply fun but interesting in a way that encourages this ‘noodling away at a problem’ is smarter way to approach it.