Play at Work!

More and more people in business, academia and psychology are recognizing the importance of play throughout our life span. Why do adults need to play? We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. In play we create joy and laughter – we can go beyond ourselves.

As a play advocate, I was recently inspired by three days at The Association for the Study of Play conference last week. Sessions like Play Diplomacy; Therapeutic Play; and Physics, Philosophy and Psychology: Play is More Than Everyone Thinks gave expression to the ongoing recognition of the value of play for human beings and our well being.

Why play at work?

Every year Gallup polls show that over 50% of our workforce is disengaged. Research has found evidence that play at work is linked with less fatigue, boredom, stress, and burnout in individual workers. I am an advocate for play at work.

In the abstract of their article, Play at Work: An Integrative Review and Agenda for Future Research, Claire Petelczyc and her research colleagues make this observation:

“Play has gained increasing interest among progressive-minded managers as an important driver of motivation and productivity in work contexts.”

Play at work improves employee engagement and morale, and therefore productivity. When we play, we do things without knowing how. That is increasingly important, given that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.

Improvising is a form of adult play. Through improvisational activities, adults cultivate active listening skills and spontaneity, social-emotional intelligence and the ability to think on one’s feet, get out of your head and be present. Allowing time for playful learning and development activities at work opens up new possibilities and unleashes everyone’s innate creativity.

Keith Sawyer, an internationally known scientific expert on creativity, collaboration, and learning argues that companies will struggle to be innovative if they don’t have some ability for bottom-up, collaborative improvisational emergence to take place. In other words, improvisational play drives innovation in the workplace.

Play allow us to be who we are and who we are not, which is how human beings develop. We can create something new from what exists. We can play at being who we are becoming.

For more information on how to bring play into your workplace with ImprovNetworking, a playground for social development, please drop me a note. Join me in advocating for play!

Social self – a contradiction?

Reading one of the more popular posts on the HBR website this week, The Must-Have Leadership Skill by Daniel Goleman — http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/10/the_must-have_leadership_skill.html — I was struck by Goleman’s notion of “social self”.

One of the social intelligence indicators: during a getting-to-know you conversation, does the candidate ask about the other person or engage in a self-centered monologue? At the same time, does she talk about herself in a natural way? At the end of the conversation, you should feel you know the person, not just the social self she tries to project.

I think “social intelligence” is a useful concept in management and I agree that a strong leader has to have a great deal of emotional or social intelligence.  And it seems to me that the “social self” we “project” is a performance that we create for ourselves in a particular setting. It’s hard to deny the importance of creating intimate conversations that are not “self-centered monologues”.  When we create performances that include talking about ourself in a “natural way” and focusing on “other” rather than on “self” we are creating intimacy.

Language makes us cateogrize and categories are static in a way that can prevent us from seeing human activity. The “social self” contains two words that contradict each other when you think about it! I like to contemplate this sentence that I previously quoted from a learning session with Dr. Lois Holzman:

Language prevents us from seeing that language prevents us from seeing.

So what does this have to do with my musings on business leadership and performance?

In conversations with executives who are working to further develop their performances in the workplace these issues come up all the time — how we are talking with each other, how we are listening and what we are istening for.  This is where improvisation is such a critical tool.  When we improvise a scene we learn to create intimate and socially intelligent conversations with others. How?  We keep our focus on the “we” (the social) and not on the self.  In this way we have the best shot at listening, communicating, persuading, and collaborating.

This post is my “yes and” to Goleman’s article.