How to ennoble the human spirit at work? Perform and play!

This morning I read a terrific article in the Sunday New York Times — Do Happier People Work Harder? by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

I can’t say that anything in this article surprised me, as I’ve had these experiences, many of which led me to become a freelance consultant.  I am confident that I’m not alone and certainly the research cited in the article sadly conveys the extent to which Americans suffer on the job:

The results were sobering. In one-third of the 12,000 diary entries, the diarist was unhappy, unmotivated or both. In fact, workers often expressed frustration, disdain or disgust. Our research shows that inner work life has a profound impact on workers’ creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality. Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier. Conventional wisdom suggests that pressure enhances performance; our real-time data, however, shows that workers perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do.

I wholeheartedly agree with Amabile and Kramer’s statement:

Work should ennoble, not kill, the human spirit.

The use of improvisation and play in the workplace is, of course, in my mind (and happily many others) a critical activity that can help the human spirit to thrive.  Reading the article this morning, my thoughts led to the brilliant work that my colleagues at Performance of A Lifetime do every day bringing improvisation and play into corporations — and the writings of my colleague Dr. Lois Holzman.  Here’s a passage from Holzman’s book Vygotsky at Work and Play that I see as a response to Amabile and Steven’s article:

To the extent that business and organizations are structurally and functionally designed to relate to social units (work teams, units, themselves, their industry, their customers, the market, etc.) and not to individuals, they are potentially developmental environments.  To the extent that business and organizations need to (or believe they need to) innovative in order to be responsive to rapid and intense changes in the global culture, and bring the innovations and play and improvisational performance to the work-place, the people in organizations have opportunities to create developmental stages* even as they get the job done.

* The “stages” that Holzman refers to are the performatory stages that we create for our life performances, wherever they may be.