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Thursday, February 14, 2013

It’s Not Just Child’s Play

Reconnecting with an old colleague earlier this year reminded us of the first Executive Program we launched in 2007 in Hawaii. 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 Ocean beckoning, the next task 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. Most didn’t. 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, as a kid”. A few more people cautiously slipped off their shoes. Before long, the teams were molding their patch of sand, like children on summer vacation.

What this exercise underscores is that as adults, we tend to lose our sense of play or that this state of mind is difficult to cultivate in the workplace. Yet research has shown and continues to show that play is so important in our lives – and not just for children. Stuart Brown in his insightful book, “Play – How it shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul”, is a good primer on the importance of play, if you need convincing.

At Lean Sensei International, we incorporate a sense of play into our programs. From the class movie the Greenbelts create, to the Sensei’s Den in which our Blackbelts participate, to the seemingly trivial activities that are an integral part of our classes, I’ve found that a sense of play 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 countless uphill battles. Playing lightens the load, puts things in perspective and does wonders to alleviate our stress levels.

Here’s what Stuart Brown has to share on this topic:

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.

Brian Sutton-Smith, Professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania offers this:

The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression. To play is to act out and be willful, exultant and committed as if one is assured of one’s prospects.

And who among us wouldn’t want our business approach to reflect this sense of exuberance and passion? How does a sense of play fit into your corporate culture? Is there an element of fun in the Lean training programs at your organization? How open are you to “playing”? Do play and work seem mutually exclusive to you?

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