It’s okay to play. Yes, really!

26 August 2011 2 By Viv McWaters

Otters are my favourite animals. Have been for as long as I can remember. It’s their playfulness that gets me every time. Check this out. Here’s the link if you can’t see the video below.

Even the adults like to play. And if that’s not enough, check out this river otter playing with a puppy. Awwww.

I’m inspired by people who can find ways to  have fun, and be playful, with their work – whatever that might be.  Which got me thinking about the benefits of play – especially for adults. Here’s some of what I discovered.

Shell’s Arie de Geus says that organisational learning occurs in three ways: through teaching, through “changing the rules of the game” (such as through openness and localness), and through play. Play is the most rare, and potentially the most powerful. Microworlds [on computers, in workshops] are places for “relevant play”. There the issues and dynamics of complex business situations can be explored through trying out new strategies and policies and seeing what might happen. Costs of failed experiments disappear. Organisational sanctions against experimentation, either implicit or explicit, are nonexistent. Reflecting  on our own and our team’s learning skills can be enlightening and “lightening” (as in “lightening up”) because this reflection can be separated from the risks and pressures of real decision making. – Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline, pp 315

In their book The Leader’s Edge, Charles Palus and David Horth devote a whole chapter to serious play. They quote Kenneth Gergen: “Serious play is a style of communicating that explores similarities and differences, not by deconstructing the other’s point of view, but by playfully exploring new combinations of persepectives for something fresh and useful.” pp 107.

I’ll resist the temptation to refer to what they say about improvisation and skip straight to this brilliant quote by S. Smithers that captures my own excitement around using play to explore serious and important issues: “Play subverts boundaries and opens us, sometimes painfully and against our will, to a wider field of experience and phenomena.” pp 121.