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The War On Play

Playground and treesWhy is there a war being fought against play?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while.

I hear it when I talk to friends about the near-constant stresses of their work. The fear of taking time off only to see the mountain of work upon their return. The endless cycle of meetings where conversation tends to focus on the tactical, on the execution, on the pressure to get shit done NOW. If I would ask, “But did you get to actually play today?” they would look at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. And for good reason…we’ve pretty much separated the ideas of work and play in our current economy.

But there’s a reason why I decided to call this site Bailey WorkPlay back in 2006. Because I truly believe we can and must reconnect work and play if our organizations are going to succeed.

Yes, it’s an uphill battle and the latest employee engagement statistics don’t offer much reason for optimism. Not to be a Dougie Downer, but we’re not exactly helping our kids see the connection, either. I witness this every day when my children bring piles of homework from school. Just this past weekend, my 14 year old daughter probably had four or five hours of personal time. The other remaining hours were devoted to projects, studying, and various other work. For her, play has become a luxury she can’t afford.

It’s almost as if our educational system is saying, “Get used to it kids. We’re preparing you for the real world where work is first. Life is just that thing that fills in the odd spaces.”

Why do we believe this is okay? Why have we decided that we need far less time to play, create, and wonder? Why do we regard learning as this intensely serious undertaking instead of the playful possibility it can be? Is this a reason we see so many more instances of depression and anxiety among adults and teens today?

Maybe it’s because as much as we like to believe we value creativity, we really don’t know how to handle it…in our businesses and in our schools.

What will it take for us to make play a vital tool in creating vibrant learning organizations?

Resources:
Aeon Magazine: The Play Deficit

Slate: Inside the Box

 

Photo credit: eurodrifter

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Python Thursdays: In A World Full Of Supermen…

…Sometimes it’s the simple things that really differentiate who we are and what we can add to the world.

What our hero, Bicycle Repair Man, shows is that it doesn’t matter if we’re surrounded by awesomely powerful individuals. Our job is to dig down and discover what truly makes each of us unique and what skills we have that we can use in our own distinct way.

So what about you…how do you relate to our hero here?

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Five Things That A Playground Can Teach Us About Relationships

This weekend, I took Katie and Leah to one of the many local parks here in Austin. The brilliant thing about our city parks are the really neat playgrounds…and on weekends, there are always a gaggle of kids enjoying the freedom of playing. As I watched, it occurred to me (with a little help from Jason) that there is a lot we can learn about relationships – and in many cases relearn – from observing how kids interact with each other.

1. Lack of judgment
Watch kids play and first thing you notice is that there is a lack of personal judgment taking place. When a new boy or girl enters the scene, they don’t fret and wonder how this fellow player is going to add to their social circle. They don’t worry if hanging around with them is going to build or kill their cred as someone cool or hip. They don’t get hung up in a bunch of the social tangles that we create everyday. The only question they have is whether they want to have fun and play.

2. Sometimes you need a buddy
While kids can go off and play by themselves, they know that the teeter-totter doesn’t work very well with just one rider. And the merry-go-round works way better when someone else helps push. Listen for the laughter on a playground and you’ll likely see a group of kids enjoying the heck out of themselves – together

3. Free to begin, free to leave
There’s no planning, no exchange of business cards, no tearful goodbyes (well, only when you have to actually leave the playground). Kids live In the moment. They’re single-mindedly focused on swinging higher, sliding faster, climbing farther. When a friend leaves, another friend may enter.

4. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow
Notice that there’s never one person ordering others to go push them on the swings or spin them on the merry-go-round. There’s just a mutual sense of helping. And if someone’s hogging all the fun, they get left behind pretty quickly. That built-in sense of fairness means that there’s always a fluid agreement of leadership and followership.

5. It’s all about sharing the experience
For kids, it’s the fun of being together and enjoying the companionship and fellowship of others. There’s an acknowledgement that discovery is better when you can share it with someone else.

If all of this is true, what happened? Unfortunately, we went through that crazy mixed up time called adolescence. We were bombarded by all sorts of messages about what’s cool and hip and dorky and childish. Most of us figured out that some pretty good defensive armor was necessary to survive the hallways of middle and high school. Then, as adults we never stopped to check whether these things we learned during these tough times still work. If we did, we’d recognize that they don’t.

No worries. The cool thing is that as adults, we now have the maturity and insight to come back around to the lessons we intuitively knew on the playground. So, next time you find a playground inhabited by some fun-loving kids, sit down and just observe. And think about how you can bring some of these lessons that may be locked inside of you back out into your work and life.

Any other playground lessons to share?

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Find Our Own Adventure Playground

Continuing my thought process from yesterday, how’s this for adventure? WebUrbanist tips Lia Sutton and the concept of the Adventure Playground:

In short, adventure playgrounds are places where children can create and modify their own environments, rather than relying on rigid equipment that only serves a limit set of programmed purposes: “In a sense, you and I have always played in ‘adventure playgrounds.’ We created a fort in the kitchen cabinets, jumped from couch to couch across oceans; we snuck out through a hole in the fence to a new world. We climbed trees and hid in bushes. We played in the mud and the rain. We chased each other, made secret worlds …”

Yeah, the concept here applies to kids, but it’s also a rich source of ideas for us adults, too. How often do we just accept our surroundings as fixed, non-transformable environments? What if we altered our everyday areas to match our moods, needs, you name it?

If you’ll excuse me…I’m off to turn my cubicle into a fort.

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Arrr, It’s Talk Like A Pirate Day Ye Scurvy Bilge Rat

Fer all ye aspiring pirates out there (and ye know who ye are), today is yer day. It’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day. It’s a day to put aside all yer worries, grab ye sword, tell a merry yarn to your best mates, and make some landlubbers walk the plank (I think ye call them managers). Now, maybe ye ain’t sure if ye have what it takes to be a pirate. Arrr…it’s easy.

First, ye start by singing a right jaunty tune. Me mate Cap’n Tom Smith has written a ditty to celebrate our day called Talk Like A Pirate Day. ‘Ere’s a start to help ye along:

Yo, Ho, Yo, Ho,
It’s “Talk Like A Pirate” Day!
When laptops are benches God gave us fer wenches,
And a sail ain’t a low price ta pay!
When timbers are shivered and lillies are livered
And every last buckle is swashed,
We’ll abandon our cars for a shipfull of ARRRs
And pound back the grog till we’re sloshed! Yo ho….

Ye can sing the whole tune.

Remember…any pirate needs a good pirate name. If ye need some help (or your crew insists on calling ye Ole Blackbutt or Cap’n Chumbucket), then thar be help fer ye. Fer instance, it helped me take the fine pirate name of Dirty Harry Rackham. It even told me what this fine name means:

You’re the pirate everyone else wants to throw in the ocean — not to get rid of you, you understand; just to get rid of the smell. You have the good fortune of having a good name, since Rackham (pronounced RACKem, not rack-ham) is one of the coolest sounding surnames for a pirate. Arr!

So, get off yer duff, swash yer buckle, and plunder yonder villages. Take pride in being a pirate today. Or you’ll be sent down to Davy Jones’ Locker.

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Reclaiming A Different Type Of Labor Day

Tomorrow is Labor Day in the United States. It’s a day in which its relevance has changed significantly since it was first officially celebrated in 1882. It began as an industrial age idea, when the concept of work was very different from now. Back in the latter portion of the nineteenth century, folks were fighting for the very things we now take for granted like the eight-hour workday, better workplace safety regulations, and child labor laws. We need to give thanks to these individuals and their struggles; if not from them, it’s likely that we would not be able to walk our own path of soulful work.

I’d like to suggest that we re-envision Labor Day and approach it as a reflective moment that can fulfill more of it’s potential in our current age. Rather than think about labor (which honestly doesn’t have the greatest connotation), consider work as a means of releasing our own unique purpose into the world. In this way, work no longer is tied exclusively to whether it is done for economic means. It could be volunteering at a battered women’s shelter. It could be pursuing a hobby like gardening, woodworking, or painting. It could be sharing your ideas through a blog.

On Labor Day, consider what gifts you can give through your work. And don’t be afraid to play a little, too. After all – like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – work and play are two great tastes that taste great together.

Happy Soulful Work Day!

Update 09.03.2007: Rosa Say has a great dream for what a Soulful Work day might be…
I will know that the Hawaiian value of Ho‘ohana has caught on in the world, when the way that people celebrate Labor Day dramatically changes: It no longer will be a day off, but a day that everyone wants to be at work as a statement of the joy it brings them.

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Happiness At Work Is Yours Now

Alexander Kjerulf at The Chief Happiness Officer blog has published his Happy At Work manifesto at ChangeThis.com. It’s not that long, but it has some powerful reminders in it.

His philosophy is the same as mine here at WorkPlay – we decide if we are happy. We choose this every single day. The choice does not belong to our managers, our coworkers, or our customers. They don’t get to decide our happiness unless we give them the power to do so. And that’s a choice, too.

Here’s an appetizer to what you’ll find:

5: Letting others know what makes me happy or unhappy at work is my responsibility.
It’s not up to my boss, my co-workers, my employees or my workplace to experiment to read my mind and find out what it takes to make me happy at work. It’s up to me to tell them.

16: I recognize that happiness at work doesn’t come from the absence of bad things in the workplace.
All workplaces can have unpleasant people, too much work, demanding customers, stress, red tape and other idiosyncrasies and annoyances. Though we strive to minimize these, I won’t waitbe happy at work until all of these have been eliminated. If I did wait, I would never be happy.

There are 23 other messages in the manifesto. Take them and savor each one.

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The Benefits Of Competition?

Bernie DeKoven at DeepFun.com asks, Must we compete? Perhaps a better question is, When should we compete? I don’t see competition as an all-out negative compared to cooperation. That would ignore the benefits of competition. One way to compete is with ourselves as a way to improve our skills and experience.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because folks can take competition to the extreme doesn’t mean it’s a negative. Competition can teach just as well as cooperation. We need to be well-rounded and that means knowing when to compete with ourself and others and then when to cooperate.

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It’s All Fun And Games Until Someone Puts Out An Eye

Nope, workplace hazard prevention day isn’t for another few months. Actually the title doesn’t have much to do with this post…I just kinda wanted to use it 🙂

A couple of weeks ago, Kevin Holland at Associations Inc. blogged on a recent King of the Hill episode lampooning the workplace entertainment provided by Cold Stone Creamery. If you’ve never been to a Cold Stone, it’s a “customize your own ice cream” shop where the work staff break out into song when they receive a tip (or any other time if they feel like it). All of which I have to say is…great. Why not? I know when I go to my local Dairy Queen, I rarely get a “thanks” let alone a verse or two from Oklahoma.

But the real question that Kevin raises is about what constitutes fun in our work. Not so long ago during the dotcom boom days, fun was the active ingredient that separated the young turks from the old fogies. New, exuberant companies brought in foosball tables, pinball machines, cappuccino bars, and other things that made it a fun place to be. Now it seems that with the bust of those heady days, the pendulum is swinging back to a strict focus on the bottom line and getting results. It’s as if an indictment has been passed that playing air hockey at 3pm rather than bad business decisions contributed to the demise of these companies.

Let’s take another look at fun and its interaction with the concept of play. I wager one of the central issues here is that fun is viewed as frivolous and childish and lead to a general lack of seriousness in a world that takes itself a bit too seriously. And perhaps there is a general fear that if our staff is playing, they’re definitely not working.

As Kevin mentions, fun is a relative term so let me offer an individual perspective and then bring play into the mix. I believe fun is an extraneous concept, and yet, not one to be dismissed entirely. Fun is creating an environment where staff can be celebrated as people, not mere workers. Bring on the birthday cakes, allow for laughter over a lunchtime game of parcheesi, have a beer or coffee afterhours. Each of us brings various levels of intrigue and complexity to the workplace…to assume that we are only here to just do a job and go home may not fully express that depth of character. After all, we are social beings who are eager to relate with others.

If we view fun as a cultural activity residing outside of the standard operations of work, I submit that play is an integrative activity. Play is a rich toolset that allows individuals and groups to bring out their best creative efforts, effectively pool their talents, and focus their energy on challenges. It’s a way of looking at the same old things differently. It’s a powerful method of altering perceptions and unteathering ourselves from conventional thinking. And, unfortunately, it’s a workplace characteristic that is sadly underutilized due to some of the stigmas mentioned earlier.

Final thoughts…Be judicious with fun and don’t overdo it or else you end up just Managing by Serving Cake (Nice, Kevin). Find a way to blend our oft-forgotten humanness into the daily work which can have its own set of rewards. But, be liberal with play and use it whenever possible. Find a way to integrate it into as many processes as you can. Business doesn’t have to be a somber activity. With a little fun and a lot of play, it might just liberate our best work.

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Report From Take Your Daughter To Work Day

One of the joys of introducing or reaquainting your child to your job and workplace is that you get to see it through their eyes. Often, they ask very simple questions that bust through our semi-conscious thinking and challenge those ideas that we just take for granted. And then, they add some much needed fun to what might normally be staid chores. Here are some of the things that Leah and I experienced together yesterday.

Some questions…

When is your lunch period over? I didn’t quite understand Leah’s initial questions about lunch and lunchtime until I probed a bit further. And then, the connection was made: kids in school have a very structured day. The lunch period is always at the same time and lasts for the same period of time…usually about 30 minutes. If you’re still eating or have a good chat with your friends and the teacher says “Lunch is over now,” then it’s time to go. It seemed pleasantly surprising for Leah when I answered, “Whenever we want it to be.” I did explain that I needed to be back in the office for a mid-afternoon meeting, but we had the freedom to decide how we spent our lunchtime period.

Do you have a substitute boss today? This question was really interesting and quite alarming. Our CEO is in Florida this week for a leadership training. When I told Leah that my boss was not in the office, she looked puzzled and wondered who would tell me what I needed to do. I replied that in our office, we all know our responsibilities and plan our work together. And no one needs to be here to supervise us to make sure we do our work and don’t create trouble. For Leah, I think she found it curious that I didn’t have someone telling me what to do, when to do it, and how to do it all the time.

Which raises for me several deeply troubling problems with our schools and mainstream pedagogical philosophy. I guess I always had problems with school when I was at that age and revisiting them as an adult and parent has reinforced my thinking that we can do better for our kids…but I wonder whether certain parts of our culture share this thinking. If we help our kids be more critical thinkers, what would happen to some of the current foundations of business and governance? Critical thinkers mean less compliant shoppers who want to know where their food comes from. Critical thinkers mean less “obedient” workers who do exactly what their organization demands. Critical thinkers mean less willing participants in a political system that encourages ever narrowing viewpoints. What if we helped our children see through the flimsy messages offered by pop media and experience a richer life?

Some cool things…

Watching mail go down the indoor mail chute. I’ve been told that many older office buildings have filled their old-timey mail chutes in due to them being fire hazards. Our building still has one and we’re on the 11th floor. Leah thought it would be cool to go halfway down and watch the mail fall through the glass enclosed chute. So we went down to the 6th floor and watched as our financial manager dropped some envelopes (containing all important bill payments). Man, those suckers moved fast as gravity took hold.

Leah also learned how to use a copier and a postage machine. And not just use, but learn how it all works. Our copier is very powerful and also very prone to misfeeds. So, we took it apart to get to the midfed paper.

She also got a peek at my daily commute which isn’t anything to cheer about. It’s long and she noted that if she had to do that every day, she would be unhappy. Which all begs for another blog post coming very soon.

If anyone else took a child to work with them yesterday, what was your experience? What did the child learn…and what did you learn?

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