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Monday, July 30, 2012

"Great is the man who has not lost his childlike heart". ~ Mencius

Reconnecting with an old colleague last week, for the US Lean Tour, reminded me of the first Executive Program LSI ever launched. It was back in 2007 in  idyllic Honolulu, Hawaii. The hard sell it was, trying to convince executives that they needed a workshop in Hawaii, is a distant memory, but looking back all those years brings to mind, one feature of our programs that continues to this day.

Not long after the customary class introductions, I asked everyone to take off their shoes. By the bewildered looks on people’s faces I had a suspicion that even with the beautiful Pacific lapping at our door step, the next assignment might be a little challenging.

“We’re going out onto the beach so you might want to take your shoes off”, I explained. A few people removed their shoes. Cautiously we made our way to a sunny stretch of smooth sand. I assembled the class into teams and asked them to be the first to build the nicest sand castle. More blank stares came my way. “Do what?” a few people asked? “Build a sand castle”, I repeated. “You remember when you built sand castles at the beach”. At this point a few more people slipped off their shoes and before long, the teams were shaping their patch of sand into castles, like children on summer vacation.

What this exercise underscores is that as adults, many of us have lost our sense of play. Yet research has shown and continues to show that play is so important and not just for children. Organizations need to play.  Stuart Brown is his insightful book, “Play – How it shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul”, is a good primer on play, if you need convincing.

At LSI, we incorporate a sense of play into all of our programs. From the class movie the Greenbelts create, to the Sensei’s Den that Blackbelts participate in, to the seemingly trivial activities we engage in, during our executive sessions, I’ve always found that incorporating fun and a sense of play into learning is a natural way for me to learn and enjoy learning. An organization’s progress to business excellence is fraught at times with difficulty and uphill battles. It benefits and it is so much more invigorating when we can approach it, at times, with the mindset a child.

Why play? Here’s what Stuart Brown has to say on the subject.

Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity. Play is an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again. Play creates new neural connections … an arena for social interaction and learning. The genius of play is that, in playing, we create imaginative new cognitive combinations. And in creating those novel combinations, we find what works.

How does a sense of play fit into your corporate culture? Your lean training programs? Do play and work seem mutually exclusive to you?

John Wheatman, an interior designer, writes of a favorite teacher in college who offered this important lesson. I pass it along, because, as a lean practitioner, I think it is so valuable.

Cultivate the mind of a three-year old. To a three year old, everything is new, and every day is an adventure . . . . They have open minds and adventurous hearts. And they know how to have fun!”

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