When I was a kid, my grandmother’s house was my favorite place in the summer. Filled with cousins, aunts, uncles, dogs, and time to run around, we exhausted ourselves and mostly kept out of trouble (I’ll only say I wasn’t involved in the ding-dong doorbell activities…). We spent a lot of time playing cards, especially a crazy game called Pounce. In this game each person plays a version of Solitaire, and can play on everyone else’s cards. The first person out of cards wins. We commonly played with 8-12 kids. Chaos and cards flying were in abundance. We had a blast. I was one of the younger cousins and remember practicing all year so I would be ready to compete with the bigger kids.
As I got older, my cousins did too and gradually stopped showing up for summer vacation as they went to college and started working. The last few years, we got down to a core group of 3 cousins. We still played Pounce but the game was very slow and sometimes we had to stop it mid-way through. We wanted to play our fun game but this wasn’t fun anymore. It took a few tries but one summer we came up with a new game, just right for 2-3 players. We took the original game and tweaked it by adding different features. We created Super Pounce! Once again, we were having a blast.
I saw something recently about the importance of play in human innovation. It’s fun to play. And it can lead to great human advances. For instance, the modern computer is a grandchild of the music box which was first invented in the 9th century in Baghdad, Iraq. Three brothers invented a cylinder with pins that was powered to produce music. The cylinder was interchangeable with other cylinders. Music was programmable. Eventually, this led to other programmable toys. In the 19th century, a young Charles Babbage was fascinated with these toys as a young boy. When he grew up, he created machines that could be programmed to do math, the early computers. Now we carry around the modern version of these in our hands and we’re still playing with them.
Then there is the ball. Balls for playing have been around for a long time. It wasn’t until Columbus discovered the Americas however, that the western world saw balls really bounce. Natives of the Dominican Republic had figured out how to use the latex from trees inside balls which created a bouncing ball. The sailors on Columbus’s ships were astonished. They brought some back to Europe and amazed everyone. It took a few hundred more years before we figured out how to use rubber in other ways but the beginning started with a game.
So what does this mean for us today? Innovation is important. And play is usually where we find it. Companies that innovate power a strong economy and often, great advances for human life. As an investor, you’re participating in this when you invest your money in different companies. Who knew investing could be so much fun?!