WHY PLAY

Three Reasons Why You Should Play At Work

Although all of us learned and developed by playing when we were kids, work and play don’t go together for us when entering adulthood. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow reminds us “almost all creativity involves purposeful play”.
Today we know that games, challenges and play activities provide a powerful context, to support us in our emotional, social and cognitive development – also within professional contexts. Here are 3 reasons why organizations need to figure out how to incorporate play in their organizational culture, their HR processes as well as into their products and services:

The power of challenges

“Play is free movement within a more rigid structure” (Prof. Katie Salem)
Games are limited by time, rules and goals, but what happens within them, is up the people engaging in it. The paradox effect that these restrictions have on us, is that they free us up and activate our creativity. While problems and conflicts overwhelm us at work, playful challenges motivate us and activate our best selves and to go beyond our own limitations.
While some get competitive, others love the social aspect of play or its room for exploration. But what all games come down to, is mastering something and feeling accomplished once we did it. Thereby games are powerful learning tools for our own development.

Experiencing through experimenting

“Play is one of the most serious things in the world” (Prof. Erno Rubik)
Games are spaces that not only engage us, but they change us for the amount of time we interact within them. The key to this transformative power is that when we play – we act “as-if” the game is serious. When we play we are serious, but in a playful way, that allows us to explore without the fear of consequences.
We can dive into stories, battle against friends and drive for victory. The emotions feel real, the imagination is in full expansion and the experience is meaningful. But once the game is over, we shake hands and return to our real life context. But what we experienced stays with us and is a door opener for change if we are able to integrate it.

Overcoming expectation

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” (Carl Jung)

One difference between kids and adults is their level of experience. And while being experienced is of high value to us, our biases, pre-judgements and expectations also block us from experiencing something new. An additional power of play is how within games we suddenly are able to overcome our expectations.

When we play, we are more willing to engage with each other, we overthink less and explore more. We create before we criticize and we evaluate based on our experiments, not our knowledge. Thereby we are more open to discover new perspectives and to enter into unknown territory.

From play to change

Even if games are such powerful tools as mentioned above, they have a weak link: they don’t do the transformation for the players. When we exit the play space, finish the challenge and leave the story we return to our serious selves. So how can we integrate the experiences we made?

Connecting what players experience in the state of play to their personal and professional lives is where trainers, coaches and colleagues come into play. The task is to integrate the new experiences and adjust our expectations and views, based on what we learned in the state of play. As kids this comes natural to us, as adults we need to relearn how to use the power of play for our own development. This is a delicate but promising potential – so lets get play back to work.