I was recently asked to be the Guest Speaker at the wards dinner and ceremony at GISWORX’13, I was asked if I could say something motivational/inspirational for 5 minutes…. I hope this was okay:

“Good evening fellow geo colleagues and distinguished guests, I feel very honoured to be asked to present at this wonderful conference.   I think we can all agree that GISTEC have done a marvellous job fitting so much in to 3 days, with such interesting presentations and workshops!

I was asked whether I would talk to you now about something motivational or inspirational potentially related to the conference themes.

But all I have come up with is the idea we all need to find time to play.   Let me try and explain to you what I believe is the ….

… the power of play

My first memory of a computer
My first memory of a computer

My life up to now has had a common thread certainly in the technology field, when I was very young my father said he was getting a computer, my mother responded with the forever remembered in family folklore “if you do I’m leaving” needless to say he got that Commodore Pet computer and as far as I know mother is still around.   What’s my first memory of that computer?  Playing a game of course.


Fast forward a few years to when my family lived in Kuwait around 1994, we got access to the internet over a modem.   Did we use it for work initially? Not at first, we explored and experimented, some people might have dismissed it as play.

I also used something called IRC and chatted to people from around the world, in the days when few people were online most used real names.  Again not for work I was just playing it was a social thing.

Simcity 2000 who would need skills from this game?

My first real experience of the game franchise SimCity 2000 (I must have played the earlier version but can’t remember)came in 1994/95 without a real end to the game this was a sure sign of me wasting hours of my time making and simulating cities, I mean who would need that skill in the future?!

My first free email account, what’s yours?

When hotmail (1996 & pre-Microsoft) released free email addresses I signed up for one, not because I needed it but because it was something to do I guess I was just playing.

By 1997 we definitely were using the internet for work in particular emails, my father and I constructed his employers first website, and I made my own website I also had a geocities website.  Not for working I was tinkering, yes playing.

When I obtained an early version of photoshop I played around with it and found you could make some interesting imagery that could be used for professional reports.   We’ve been using photoshop in report production ever since.

My first mobile


Then when finally I went off to university my parents said “we want to remain in contact with you must have a mobile phone”.   I graciously accepted not because I wanted to be contactable by my parents (although I told them that) but because I wanted to play with this relatively new technology.

Fast forward to a year or so back and I’m still playing in fact I want to make levels for a 3D shooter game, oh I’m aware there might be a business application for it too but really that’s not my main motivation.   I stumble across a blog talking about CityEngine…. now look what I’m doing with it and where that’s got me!


Play is not trivial

So now as a relatively new parent I now understand the power of play, we shouldn’t use the word to be dismissive anymore as it often was “oh he’s just playing”.

I watch my daughters play and the things they like playing with you can see them getting better at and discovering new techniques.  At the moment it’s drawing they love, but worryingly for me they also love my iPad, in fact so much that I’ve practically given it to them.

Have you seen pictures of where people at Google work? Slides, funny seats, they even have a policy to allow employees to work on their own experimental side projects, in fact a lot of tech companies do that.


Twitter is now an essential part of how I do business, I can now call on expertise from around the world based on a common love of the geo and planning profession.”

It's getting serious now..
It’s getting serious now…

Gamification is actually a serious academic subject.

Did you notice that you’re getting points for attending conference sessions…?   A game for you but not the conference organisers!

Play is experimenting

Look at this screenshot it’s the latest version of SimCity, why are my work tools not like that? Mind you have you seen CityEngine? Wouldn’t it be easier?

I want my work interface like this!
I want my work interface like this!

This is not my joke but imagine going back in time 50 or a 100 years and telling our ancestors that we have devices in our pockets from which we can access pretty much the sum total of all human knowledge they’ll be amazed.  Then tell them we use it to access funny pictures of cats…

Now if I end it there I’m going to be forever remembered as the guy that showed up at GISWORX and almost showed everyone a funny picture of a cat.   So perhaps I should end on this picture of my two daughters playing and drawing, let me never say the phrase “you’re wasting time playing with that”, because I do not know what the future holds only that it will be different from mine.

Shameless use of own kids to hammer home point?
Shameless use of own kids to hammer home point?