Do you dare to play?

Playfulness may contribute to innovation and to transformational changes in organizations. On the individual level playfulness make us more creative and happier. Playing may help you to give substance to playfulness in your organization. What kind of play type are you?

 

Playfulness

As a playing person, homo ludens is able to shape his own future in the interaction with others.[1] People who are playing enjoy what they are doing. They feel that they have a grip on their own lives, which makes them more agile in an environment that is ambiguous and uncertain. In general, people with a playful attitude are more creative, happier and healthier.[2] Playfulness strengthens our adaptive skills and contributes to positive social relationships and greater self-awareness. Playfulness is combined with a positive and optimistic outlook and an open view of the world.[3]

Being playful is an attitude, a way you face life. People differ from others in the degree of playfulness they adopt in their way of thinking and behavior. This difference has to do with education and personality.[4]  Stuart Brown describes various play forms that people use to give substance to playfulness:[5]

 

Being playful

The explorer is excited to discover new things. This can be done physically by visiting new places and leaving the comfort zone, mentally by reflecting on events or learning about new themes, or emotionally by being open to new feelings through meditation or art such as painting, dance, music and literature. Explorers broaden their mind, which stimulates playfulness and inspire others.

The artist takes pleasure in producing something like paintings, sculptures, dance, fashion, but also in activities such as gardening, developing new working methods, and designing houses, bridges or new products. The artist likes to show his or her creation to the world. It is about creating something that is fascinating or impressive and that touches on beauty.

The inventor wants to find a solution to an existing problem or create something new that makes life easier. The inventor plays with thoughts and materials, comes up with new combinations, makes new products, sees if something works and how something can be made better, more useful or more beautiful.

The collector takes pleasure in collecting interesting objects or experiences. Collectors often connect with like-minded people and exchange what they have discovered. They want to know how something works, they organize and find out what makes an object or experience attractive. They translate their experiences into new situations and contribute to innovations.

The active types are at their happiest when they move by walking, cycling, running, doing yoga, dancing or swimming. They want to feel their bodies and explore their limits. They often form groups to motivate each other. They are not concerned with being the best, but with the activity itself that creates new energy and allows new thoughts to flow.

The challenger enjoys competitive play and enjoys playing by challenging others and plays with the ambition to be the best. It is not necessarily about winning and losing, but about the dynamics that unfold between the players and the fun you can enjoy together.

The director enjoys inventing and performing scenes and realizing events. Directors bring others into the play, but are themselves the undisputed center of creativity and organizational strength. They show their creativity in coming up with interesting experiences and bringing people with different qualities together.

The joker plays with sense and nonsense and makes others laugh with special angles and unexpected quips. The court jester is the oldest form of the joker who could playfully contradict prevailing views. The joker invites people to look at themselves and brings up established habits, thus creating space to try something new.

The storyteller uses imagination and knows how to convert events and emotions into a story that invites you to look differently at what is going on. We find storytellers among authors of books, stage or film scripts and among creators of cartoons, films and vlogs. The storytellers create an imaginative world and know how to touch, inspire and make people think.

 

Playfulness

Playfulness is a common feature of the above roles. The players are intrinsically motivated and find opportunities to play everywhere. Through their activities they continue to develop, adapt and improve. With their investigative and playful attitude, they continuously learn about themselves and the world around them. They always see opportunities to take initiative and have fun.

It seems as if we are less willing to play as we get older, as if there is less room for playing when we are swallowed up by work, career, health, care for others and social obligations.  Most adults see playing as something that children do, something that does not fit into the adult world. Many leaders do not play because they are burdened by responsibility and believe that leadership is a serious matter. But when we do not play and do not have fun, then at some point the question will arise whether we are still happy. A helpful question is what makes you really happy and what gives you energy. A second question that arises is how we can play more. [6]

Experiences of play theorists provide guidance on how to become homo ludens again and thus make room for fun, creativity, innovation and change.[7] A first step is to go back to the playful plays you played when you were young and the fun you had with them. Look back at what gave you energy and pleasure, what role you played and what you felt with the people you played with. This reflection helps with the question of what you can do to find back your playful self and allow it in your work and life. Then open up to humor and fun in the things you do. It helps if you realize that you don’t always have to be serious. It is important that you show yourself as a playful player. Allow yourself the space to be playful and ignore the fear of being irresponsible and immature. Improvise with playful working methods, try things out and see what the effects are. Find out for yourself what type of player you are, find others who encourage you to be playful and look for opportunities to use your play qualities. Playing is exploring new situations and pushing boundaries. Remember that you do not have to be in a playful position all the time. Find out for yourself when playfulness contributes to relaxation, creativity and innovation in the interaction with others. It is precisely in this collaborative play that we can shape change and innovation in a world that is ambiguous and dynamic.[8]

 

 

[1]  Huizinga, J. (1938) Homo Ludens. A study of the play-element in culture. Edition 2014. Eastfort, CT: Matino Fine Books.

[2]  Hendricks, T.S. (2014) Play as self-realization. Towards a general theory of play. American Journal of Play, 6, (2), 190-213.

[3]  Lieberman, J.N. (1977) Playfulness: its relationship to imagination and creativity. New York: Academic Press.

[4]  Bateson, P. & P. Martin (2013) Play, Playfulness, creativity and innovation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[5]  Brown, S. (2009). Play: how it shapes the brain, opens imagination and invigorates the soul. New York: Penguin Group.

[6]  Sicart, M. (2013) Play matters. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

[7]  DeKoven, B.L. (2014) A playful path. Pittsburg, PA: Carnegie Mellon University – ETC Press.

[8]  Boonstra, J.J. (2018) Change as collaborative play. A positive view on changing and innovating organizations. Amsterdam: Boom | Management Impact.

 

The power of playing

Do playing and organizational change go together? Playful play offers a valuable perspective for organizational change when the environment is dynamic and uncertain.

 

Play and culture

Playing is part of our culture. It is about what we consider valuable and how we interact with each other. In all cultures we see children playing, and usually they play the same games. They experience freedom and fun and are not yet bound by the rules of the culture in which they are growing up. As we grow older, our cultural values start to influence the way we play. We fear that others may consider us immature, crazy, or wasting time. The fact that we think of playing as something childish is part of our culture, how we look at playing.

Art is a special form of play. For a long time people devoted much time and energy on all kinds of art. It is quite probable that the earliest art forms played an important role in the social life of our ancestors and thus for their survival. By creatively playing and experimenting with all kinds of materials that were available, our ancestors made all kinds of discoveries, such as the fire, bow and arrow, and the wheel.

Play uncovers cohesion and promotes creativity and resourcefulness and gives us new ideas and solutions. Play thus contributes to survival and our collective consciousness.

 

Play and games

Children playing enjoy it because they create the play together, make up playing rules, challenge each other and have fun. They do not play a game just to win or to lose. The distinction between play and game is relevant.[1] The purpose of a game is usually clear. Play is more open-ended. Most games have strict rules and a referee seeing to it that the game is played according to the rules. A game is often extremely serious because there is a lot of money and prestige at stake. In play there is less competition than in a game. Play is about collaboration, not about opposition. In play there are no political games in which one tries to strengthen one’s position at the expense of others. There are rules in play, but they are used playfully and easily changed if that makes the play more fun and attractive. The rules in a match are strict and any violation punished. There is no aggression in play, as is often the case with a game. Someone who behaves too aggressively in the play is easily corrected by others because you make the play together while you play it.[2]

 

Preparing for the future

Playing and learning are inextricably linked. While playing we learn best how to understand and handle reality. We learn from our mistakes and are invited to change our behavior. It is precisely when there are limits to space, time or materials that play gives us new ideas and solutions. Playing helps to prepare for the future and to deal with the challenges we face in our lives. We learn to deal with the unknown by trying something new.

All smart mammals play when they are young. There is a biological need to do so. When young animals are unable to play, they show strongly deviating social behavior and die earlier than peers are able to play. Playing allows young animals to prepare for the behavior they need when they are adults. Young lions jump at each other and practice for later when they catch a springbok. Young chimpanzees practice social behavior that allows them to function in a group. Grizzly bears that play the most in their youth have the greatest chance of survival.[3]

People also need play to learn and socialize. The time children play goes together with the development of the frontal cortex in the brain. This part of the brain is relevant for cognitive skills, such as distinguishing relevant and irrelevant information, seeing patterns, recognizing their own feelings and emotions, and being able to envision the future. Compared to animals, people have an extremely long childhood. The longer your childhood, the more you can learn. The more you can learn, the better you develop into who you are. Although playing has no direct goal, playing as an exercise helps to deal with challenges.[4] People who play learn better how to deal with the world around them and respond better to unexpected events.

 

Change as collaborative play

Collaborative play often starts with curiosity about what is going to happen. There is a sense of the unknown and excitement about the possibilities that the play offers and the space that is created for new ideas and perspectives. In the actual play people enjoy the movement that develops. Play experiences contribute to knowledge, understanding and skills. Shared experiences provide understanding of the working methods and culture that we have created together. This provides awareness of the power to change and the way in which we can bring about changes together.[5]

Collaborative play gives satisfaction when players create a new future together and can learn from each other. Imagine that we can see changing organizations as a form of play making us feel free and allowing us to have fun. Play provides room to try new behavior and develop new ideas. This frees us from ingrained patterns and can contribute to profound changes in organizations and our culture. Organizational change as a form of collaborative play is not about a competition with winners and losers, but about players who work together on a future and realize transformational changes in a dynamic and ambiguous world.[6]

 

[1]   Kohn, A. (1992) No contest. The case against competition. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

[2]   Bateson, P. & P. Martin (2013) Play, Playfulness, creativity and innovation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[3]   Bekoff, M .& J.A. Byers (1998) Animal play: evolutionary, comparative and ecological perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[4]   Brown, S. (2009). Play: how it shapes the brain, opens imagination and invigorates the soul. New York: Penguin Group.

[5]   Eberle, S. (2014) The elements of play. Towards a philosophy and a definition of play. American Journal of Play, 6, (2), 214-233.

[6]   Boonstra, J.J. (2019) Change as collaborative play. A positive view on changing and innovating organizations. Amsterdam: Boom | Management Impact.

Cultural change

The book “Leiders in Cultuurverandering” [Cultural Change and leadership] is based on 16 in-depth case studies in international and Dutch companies. They include Randstad, Arcadis, Air France KLM, 3M Health care, Amazon and Ahold. The case descriptions are available in Dutch language. The most important stories are included as practical examples in the English publication Cultural Change and Leadership in Organizations.