In this work, people are often hesitant about play. "What's the point?" they ask. "I don't need to have fun, there's work to do." Yes, there's work to do. That is why play is so vital.
Here's the thing: the laughing and having fun is not the point, it's a joyful byproduct of a "serious" practice. If you want laughter to be the point, do laughter yoga (beneficial to many, and my idea of hell!).
Think of play as a work-out for your creativity muscles, for your brain and for your joy receptors.
A playful, state is a change state, a fluid state, an open state. A playful state, where laughter is genuine and you go after your aim (whether that be to catch a ball or count to ten in a group with your eyes closed) makes learning, retraining and the formation of new neural pathways quicker, slicker and easier.
So if you want work to work better, play!
Work's so much more entertaining with a game in your back pocket.
Group games are fabulous, but you don't always have ten people to hand ready to spend 15 minutes laughing with you. Secret games are great for lifting energy, giving you focus and improving the flavour of what you do at work.
Here's a game you can play alone, with a colleague who can keep their mouth shut or with a friend in another location. It's great to have someone to share the joy with!
Go ahead, make my day better!
1. Pick a person at work and set a day to play. For the whole day, each time you come across this person, listen to every word they say to you with your full presence and attention, whether they're chatting about the weather or speaking their mind about an important project. Before you speak to them, take a long, deep, luxurious breath. Every time.
2. Notice how you feel as you play this game. Notice any differences in how they behave towards you. Share what happened with someone else. If you like, you can post your comments here.
Listen to Steve Keil go. He believes that Bulgaria has been infected by a 'serious meme' that is getting in the way of happiness, productivity, and that bringing play back into our lives will revitalise the economy, education and even Bulgarian society as a whole. Wow. He's serious about this.
Scary Bulgarian Baba
His theory is that Bulgaria's natural playfulness and creativity was quashed by 45 years of communism, autocratic work practice and a habit of being serious, which have made Bulgaria consistently LAST in surveys for optimism, business productivity and in GDP per capita. Steve Keil wants to change it, stopping companies setting limiting parameters that give their employees a clear, single way of being right, stifling creativity and innovation.
He's got actual science to prove that play will make the difference. Science, case studies and even pictures of animals having a laugh, with their great big brains (made bigger through play).
But that's Bulgaria's problem, and we're not Bulgaria, are we? No. We're nothing like Bulgaria. Phew! Thank goodness for that.
(click on Steve's image to hear his TED talk)
Matt Smith, cringing and taking a failure bow.
Failure is a huge thing. Retrain how you respond to it and you're opening doors that, for most people, remain closed for a lifetime.
What are the benefits of opening these doors? Learn to celebrate your failures, not just verbally or intellectually, but with your whole body, and you will feel yourself becoming bravely creative. The secret? You don't need to be so brave any more.
What feels bad isn't the failure itself, but the way years of conditioning have taught us to respond to it - not with pride at our own courage for taking a risk and turning our curiosity into action, but with self-reprimand or worse, and a physical manifestation of our own shame at getting something 'wrong'.
Here are Matt Smith's delicious delvings into failure at TEDx Bellevue. His term the 'Failure Bow' describes something we've been playing with at State of Play too, a concept familiar to improvisers the world over and, as Matt points out, to trapeze artists. When you take a fall, mess up or fail in any way, throw your arms in the air, grin inanely and take your bow! You took a risk. You messed up. That deserves a round of applause because without people like you, things - be they your life, your company or the world we live in - will stagnate. Yes, we'll keep the status quo, but will we really do what we're here to do? Of course not.
So, stop playing it safe, take a few risks and see how gloriously you can fail. And whatever you do, remember your dumb-assed grin.
A playful attitude is a powerful thing. Take the example of two Nobel Prize-winners who discovered graphene, a revolutionary new material just one atom thick, while playing with sticky tape and friendly machismo.
Nobody's suggesting that play should be all you ever do, but when it comes to creativity, innovation and better communication, there's not much to beat it.
You never know you might just make a discovery that'll change your life...