The Necessity of Play

I don’t know how often I say to my clients: “Have fun with it!” or “Play with this idea this week.”  So much of life and work feels like… work. Or at least what we’ve been taught work feels like.  But I’ve found that by injecting a little levity into the situation, letting go of all the seriousness, and playing (or having fun) with an issue often helps us solve it faster.  And now I have a better understanding of why this is so.

 Many of you know that I’m a fan of  How can you not be a fan of a site that is all about “Ideas Worth Spreading?”  These are talks by people from all over the world, some famous, some not, but who are emerging as thought leaders.  People who have something interesting to say that can impact others.  And Ted makes these remarkable topics available to the world… for free.

I came across this one recently — Steve Keil speaking about the sad state of Bulgaria to Bulgarians.  What does this have to do with play?  As far as Steve is concerned, everything.  After showing a litany of bad news — Bulgaria is lagging behind economically, in education, in innovation and entrepreneurship — Mr. Keil makes a case for a revolution of play. He claims all of these problems in the society stems from a culture where seriousness is overvalued and play and creativity are undervalued.

Don’t be fooled — this is not really a presentation about Bulgaria.  Keil might say it is, but the messages and data about how play and creativity benefit the human mind and society are universal.  They also describe some of the malaise in the U.S. workforce, businesses, and the economy.  (About halfway through, he gets to the true argument for play, so stay with it for a few minutes.)

Unless we hold a key leadership position, we cannot often control or modify the culture of our organizations.  But we can choose play over seriousness a little more often.  We can step back and decide not to take everything so seriously.  To “play” with a problem.  To have fun with solving something, or forming a team.  It works. I’ve seen it many, many times.

Any parent will tell you one of the greatest gifts our children give us is the glimpse of the world through the eyes of a child.  Children are consumate “players.”  Always looking at the world and trying to figure it out — testing different ways of being in the world. Trying things just to find out what will happen next.  We can learn as much from them as they will from us.

How will you play more?  Where will you let go of seriousness?