"For me as a kid, I was obsessed with Legos and I actually credit that with helping me become a designer in the end," IDEO CEO Tim Brown said.
IDEO is the firm that designed Apple's mouse, TiVo's thumbs-up and down buttons and a funny-looking football.
"We were playing around trying to figure out how to make a football that was easier to kick, actually, so we put these little kind of wing things on it, so it could sit on the ground and you could kick it, but we discovered that when you threw that football, it flew better," Brown said.
It was a product designed by playing. The same way kids play with Legos or Magic Markers.
"Watch how they learn when they find a cardboard box and draw stuff on there to make it a castle and then dress up and start acting something out," Brown said.
Brown says kids are creative and thinks they're born that way.
"And unfortunately, what we do is we put them through an education system where we kind of like squeeze it out of them," Brown said.
That's why he's speaking at a fundraiser for the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which has a mission to bring learning and play back together.
"We believe so strongly that the beginnings of creativity and innovative exist in children and that it's our responsibility to nurture those," Bay Area Discovery Museum CEO Karyn Flynn said.
In a room full of teachers and donors, Brown did this:
"You've got 30 seconds when I say go to draw a portrait of your next door neighbor," Brown said.
The exercise was less about the faces they drew, than the faces they made.
"More than one slightly embarrassed smile," he said.
Brown said somewhere along the way, adults lose confidence in their ability to create.
But kids have that confidence and we should help them keep it.
"We need to encourage them to not be fearful. Particularly not be fearful to go from having ideas to making those ideas real," Brown said.
Brown said not just with building toys, but with computers and 3D printers.
That could make today's tinkerers, tomorrow's entrepreneurs.