How To Innovate In Work Through Play

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Playtime is often underestimated in business when, because of its benefits, it shouldn't be. Here's how you can innovate in work using informal techniques!

Let’s play! Let’s have fun and win…at work. Is such a suggestion the breach of the ultimate taboo? Absolutely not, and it is time to convert the non-believers.

What do we envision to be play? Is it clowns juggling pins while riding on a tricycle? Is it a rough and tumble game of football? Is it children going up and down merry-go-rounds? Possibly. Is it going to the office on a Monday morning? Most likely not. What is the definition of play? Our most broadly accepted version of play is “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” There is such a clear cut dualism between work and play in every component of our system. The frivolous opposes the serious. Work hard, play hard, we say. Our delineation of work and play lingers.

The Benefits Of Play

Yet, this dualism has created long term psychological and physical schisms in our daily lives. First of all, even if we leave both work and play as separate activities, the encouraged work/play ratio is 5:1. This ratio causes physical stress, low morale and diminishing productivity. Internally, a focus only on repetitious tactical procedure with no room for creative expansion can lead to psychosomatic stress, or burnout. Truly, all work and no play makes Jane a dull girl!

So many experts in psychology and business emphasize the need to have:

  • More play activities on a daily basis;
  • A stronger merge between work and play.

Psychologist Margarita Tartakovsky sheds light on play in her article The Importance Of Play For Adults. Along with Scott G. Eberle, editor of the American Journal of Play, Margarita confirms that adults constantly need play in daily routines to maintain sharp problem solving. Sir Richard Branson, serial entrepreneur and CEO of the Virgin Group emphasizes the need to merge work and play in the professional world, thus changing work culture internally. Branson highlights Google as a prime example of encouraging random, quirky inter-office fun as a means to teambuilding and boosting company morale.

How To Innovate In Work

We can develop two categories of play that add positive change to company culture: structured and unstructured play. The former is already introduced to work life. Most companies have competitive play in teambuilding activities. Most adult play is encouraged to be competitive; usually athletic-type play in work settings fit in well with both traditional and information industries. Unstructured play is the gray area that we need to increase in company culture to truly create balance in how businesses grow in creativity. Unstructured play is the game changer! Not only encouraging fun, random office exchange, but having fun in actually planning and development! It sounds too good to be true, but in actuality we have our ever evolving innovations in technology stemming from this type of unstructured play in product development.

To merge the energies of work and play for creativity balance:

  • Encourage on-the-spot brainstorming sessions. So many companies discourage informal ‘water-fountain’ type chats. In an open culture, these chats can turn into great ideas for the next project. Or for the least, create a dynamic duo in the team!
  • Introduce ease in brainstorming sessions. We all have brought yummy snacks in meeting sessions. How about letting everyone take their ties off, shoot a basket ball, and doodle an entire notebook while talking things through. Right-brained motor skill is neglected but so important in creative problem solving.
  • Why not have show and tell! Everyone has that something they’re good at both inside and outside of the office. It’s a great way to town hall and lead to other suggestions or issues that need addressing.
    Have a garden. This can be a small rock garden with an office fountain that needs tending to. What a wonderful tool for mindfulness!
  • If possible, cook onsite. This may not be possible in certain countries due to food regulations, but in the Caribbean there are full blown kitchens in many local corporations. Colleagues randomly decide to cook for lunch. It is the best morale boosting activity ever!

In John Heider’s The Tao of Leadership, Lao Tzu’s leadership advises that “being one-sided always produces unexpected and paradoxical results.” We have seen this through long term repercussions of separating work and play. The creative process of play should not be removed from activities that demarcate such a large portion of our lives, that of work.



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