We had the good fortune to acquire a puppy for my sons birthday in March, just before covid hit. As someone who has grown up with dogs I thought I knew what to expect. The opposite proved to be the case as this puppy took over our lives and our way of being. Puppies need play and they will also let you know that!
It may seem like an alien concept to many but humans also need play. We tend to associate play with children and not with adults but research shows that play is a very powerful tool when integrated into the workplace. When I reflect on my own career I can recall some of the most inspired moments were when I was in full flow and everything I was doing was play-like in nature. In these moments I felt so much more resourceful and empowered to approaching challenges from a different more holistic perspective.
I now know that I was in fact accessing my right brain hemisphere which is the part associated with creativity, feelings critical thinking amongst other things as opposed to the left brain which is very rational, fact orientated and likes structure and rules.
Play and fun unfortunately gets a bad rap in the workplace as it is often considered to be a frivolous activity, not productive and thought by some to be nothing more than time-wasting. But the fact is that the seriousness we are conditioned to associate to work is undoubtedly preventing us from accessing our greater potential and that of our teams.
Play is an experience and an open state of play allows us to experiment and take creative risks synonymously beneficial to innovation, a skill that is much needed in our organisations today as we experience much disruption in our economies and the workplace. It is all too easy for fear to take over and acting from a place of fear or lack can be detrimental to ourselves and our work. Play is the antidote.
Play breaks down barriers and builds resilience and connection with fellow participants. Indeed the play process has been shown to develop empathy and adaptability some of the skills much required for our future working experience as a linear approach to thinking is not always useful.
We experience a shift in mindset as we move into play and openness to experience the present moment and an accessing of our intuition and curiosity. Otto Scharmer talks about the emergent future. What’s wanting to unfold in this present moment and its the writers personal belief that the more we can tune into this state the more resourceful we can be. It is the unison of left and right brain but also access to heart and gut brains that will allow us to be future fit.
But back to play – ever noticed when a colleague brings their kids or their dog to work that we all suddenly feel like permission has been granted to engage in playful action, the energy and mood suddenly becomes lighter, more uplifted. Well we are so occupied with the serious business of adulting and all that entails such as following procedures, meeting deadlines and adhering to all the written and unwritten rules of corporate culture that we often forget our true entity as experiential beings and the many great skills and talents we hold within us.
In fact scientists have recognised that play is a survival drive coming from the brain stem just as sleeping and nourishing our bodies are. We are designed by nature to flourish through play. Dr. Stuart Brown author of Play: How it shapes the brain and a leading expert in play science suggests that this seemingly purposeless activity should be more practiced during tough times such as many of us experience now.
As a leadership coach I often observe clients heavily entrenched in their left logic brain, in line with the structure of most businesses and I often find a lot of my work is moving them into the right brain through questioning, visualisation and getting really curious. When they allow themselves to open to this it is incredible what can be unearth shifting them into a much bigger thinking allowing them to see solutions that they hadn’t been able to access prior.
Some suggestions for becoming more playful:
☀️ Become more aware of where your thinking is in a given moment. Observe your thoughts and notice where they are coming from and how they are serving you.
☀️ Ask yourself questions like : How can this be easier /more fun? How can I be more playful with this? What wants to unfold here? Life doesn’t need to be complicated. The more we remain playful and curious to it the more these questions will start to present answers to us.
☀️ Write a journal of unfiltered thoughts about something you are working on. No judgement just download everything that coming to you. There is a connection between hand and brain so its helpful to do this manually.
☀️ Visualise – some people are more open to this than others but I encourage you to play with it. Imagine the desired outcome you are seeking to arrive at, what does it look, feel, smell like, describe your experience of it in as much detail as possible. Now ask yourself what steps have you taken to put you on this path.
☀️ If you have kids or animals in your life – take time to observe them, play with them because they have many lessons to teach us through their own interaction with the world and how they show up.
As I was saying puppies will let you know when they want to play and thankfully so. As I get lost in my own work, I frequently get a email@example.com or a tugging of my clothes from my little furry friend here getting the signal its time to take a break. I’ve learned for myself that stepping away from work is beneficial to my own creativity as I often get downloads of ideas when walking in nature or getting involved in some other unconnected fun activity.
Play is an untapped resource in my opinion and one when introduced into a corporate culture can really increase engagement, give employees a sense of community and common purpose.