Its official-play is not frivolous. In fact, play makes people smarter and more resistant to the paralysis of fear. Dr. Stuart Brown has devoted his professional life to studying play. He took two populations of rat pups and deprived one group from playing. When the rats matured he exposed both populations to the scent of a cat. Both groups fled and hid. The group that was not play deprived slowly came out of hiding, sniffing around for the cat and eventually re-established a normal routine. The play deprived group never came out of hiding. They starved rather than returning to above ground activities. In autopsies Brown discovered that play deprived rats had smaller brains.
A playful attitude at work and life is a huge advantage during a crisis. When people are playful they signal that different feelings and ideas are OK to discuss. A playful environment encourages creativity and innovation. Maybe that is why Google and Microsoft have rooms filled with games; from computer to paddle tennis. Games are a safe place to fail and the more one fails the more one learns if one adopts a playful point of view.
Bill Gates comments “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” The great Tai Chi master Cheng Man-ch’ing urged his students to adopt a playful attitude and “invest in loss” He went on to say that the fear of loosing makes people hold on to old structures and ideas and that leads to rigidity and ultimate defeat. He was the embodiment of flexibility and playfulness. Even into his seventies he remained a peerless martial artist.
Here is an exercise to help see problems in a more playful light:
* Describe in one or two sentences a current problem (an example) “we need healthier snacks during office breaks all we get are doughnuts”
* See the problem in your minds eye as a movie say a Western, Spy thriller, Musical
* Assign roles of hero, antagonist, supporting actors and bit players to the cast of real life characters
* How do you cast yourself…Hero, villain, or supporting player?
* How are you and others dressed? What’s the dialogue? Where does the action take place? How is the problem resolved?
* Now recast the parts including your own part. If you were the hero, now play the villain etc… and run the movie in your head again pay attention to what happens next.
* What do you notice? What changes? How often do you find yourself playing the same role in every problem?