Trying too hard

3 July 2010 4 By Viv McWaters

Sometimes I find myself trying too hard. Trying too hard to impress, or to keep the peace, or to come up with a brilliant idea. And this despite that I know that I can’t do all or any of those things even some, let alone all, of the time – and certainly not on demand. It’s when I catch myself trying too hard that I try to become more playful. And that’s where it gets tricky, because it’s hard (ironic eh?) to be very playful on your own. Much easier to get sucked in to the prevailing mood. It’s remarkably easy to forget playfulness in the midst of all the serious stuff of life (read tedium) – paying bills, catching trains or planes, standing in queues, or (God forbid!) attending meetings.

Why be more playful? I think it opens opportunity. I think it’s fun and when I’m having fun I’m more likely to try something new or adventurous and who knows where it might lead? I also think it helps others to relax too. I was chatting with a friend the other day who played an improv game with a group of his colleagues. He said he learnt more about them in that few minutes than in years of regular meetings. He saw who jumped straight in, who opted out. He saw a different side to his colleagues. I wondered if it was a ‘different’ side, or whether he was seeing the ‘real’ person, rather than the work persona?

A few weeks ago I ran a workshop with a group of people using improv games for much of the time. Later, the feedback I received was that people felt “challenged, inspired, confused, excited and energised”. All from being playful! I’m reminded of the 80s when the management mantra was to leave your personal life at home and not bring your personal self and problems to the work place. Always seemed bizarre to me as to how I was supposed to split myself into the ‘work Viv and the ‘home’ Viv. Seems some people have taken this to heart though and still see work as ‘serious’ and play as well, something else that’s not really appropriate in the world of work. Thankfully this is changing, and there are lots of commentators who talk about the benefits of play and of having fun, yes, even at work!: Keith Sawyer, Alex Kjerulf. And it’s not a new theme for me either. I’ve written about it before here and here.

So, how to be more playful? As well as the usual paraphenalia I carry with me, I’m going to try and find ways of actually being playful more often. Maybe I should dig those juggling balls out of the cupboard and have them in my bag? Which brings me to the question of whether I need things to be playful? Or other people to play with? Or whether playfulness is a state of mind? I guess it’s all of the above.

My challenge is to be true to my own convictions: I know that play, and laughter, releases endorphins. I know that play triggers different parts of the brain. I know that the way we act when playing games is a window to how we act in other situations. I know that I’m more open when playing games. I know I have more ideas, and even if I don’t, I have more fun anyway. And I also know that I stress over what people will think of me when I suggest a game in lieu of a more serious, more conventional, approach.

It’s certainly easier, and maybe even safer, to be conventional, to be unexceptional. Challenging the status quo has always been an uncomfortable place to be. I have enough experience of facilitation now that I know how to be predictable, and I know how to use a whole range of processes to deliver perceived outcomes for the client. I know how to use management speak, how to play the corporate game. Problem is, I don’t want to. I prefer to challenge, to disrupt and to take people to their learning edge where something might actually shift as a result of what we do together. It’s unpredictable. It’s sometimes scary (yep, for me too!). It’s one of the reasons I have this blog – to capture these thoughts, to share them, and to find playmates (wanna play?).

For me, and my clients, some of whom do some of the most serious work imaginable, playfulness is a way to seriously explore what they do and how they do it – to innovate even. Guess that’s why my business is called Beyond the Edge.

This, I think, is the work I’ve been waiting to do.

HT to my playmates. You know who you are.