How Leaders Open Up The Minds Of Their Teams

Neuroscience of play - people development network

To be creative in workplaces requires that leaders create a culture of ‘play.’ Then why is ‘play’ such dirty word in many workplaces?

It seems this is mainly because we generally believe that work is ‘serious’ and play is ‘frivolous.’ It seems the frivolous nature of play is not ‘serious’ enough to sit comfortably alongside ‘proper’ business skills and practises that have been carefully designed and proven to be robust, measurable and therefore considered tangible business attributes. Such attainments warrant certificates and awards that often globally demonstrate ‘competence‘ at a level that can be easily recognized and rewarded in the world of work.

Where does the primal nature of play come into this? It doesn’t! Historically, in the world of work, play is out there with the fairies. It is not prescriptive, this makes it ‘fluffy nonsense’ (not my words!) that should be given its rightful place in the world, ‘the kid’s playground, whilst we adults get on with the serious business at hand.’

Actually, let’s not forget, the serious nature of work served the compliant nature of the industrial era very well. It is only now we are feeling the pain as we ‘metamorphosise’ into unrecognisable tech driven beings that have been handed a one man boat and oar and told to float off and survive the choppy  ocean of change.

It seems we have underestimated the journey from reliance to self-sufficiency, is not an easy one. After generations of being told what to do, thinking for ourselves at work, is by and large alien to many of us. We forget that we spent 10’s (or more) of generations being encouraged not to think, just do, be complaint and obedient. We were encouraged not to be curious (after eight or so years old), ‘creativity’ was for the weirdos, who whilst they made entertaining side shows, tended to live on the outskirts of society. Many of us have grown up to be competitive and be collaborative only when it suits our needs. Leadership and learning have been prescriptive, because in an authority driven age, this was what was needed.

None of this is right, or wrong, it is just that the goal posts of changed and our brains and habits need rewiring.

It is time to understand play and its place in the workplace

Play is a very serious business for us humans and misunderstood by many of us. ‘Play is the glue that binds us together as a species,’ and because the social need is the primary human need (over and above food and water), without play and positive social bonding, we wither and perish.

Play = Human Growth

When it comes to creating collaboration and successful relationships, play the core ingredient that develops trust in human interactions and social bonding. So the successful development of any social group is dependent on play.

When it comes to developing a creative thinking culture, we need people to open up their minds and seek possibility.

According to the neuroscientist and found of the National Institute of Play, Dr Stuart Brown, “play is the exploration of the possible” and “curiosity and play go together.”

So, no play: no trust, collaboration, no creativity, no INNOVATION!

Play + Science = Transformation (Dr Stuart Brown)

When we put it like this, many leaders would sit up and listen to the idea of creating a playful workplace. So what is stopping them? It appears that the collective belief that play should be completely separate from work, is so ingrained, many leaders are finding it almost impossible to fuse the two seamlessly together.  It is a bit like agile working, which necessitates that we build learning invisibly into the day to day operations and not separate out learning as a separate function. Again, easier said than done, when we raised to think habitually in a linear fashion.

‘I believe the separation between work and play is an unnecessary separation.’ ‘Play is like nutrition, or exercise, it should be incorporated into each day.’ Dr Stuart Brown

Brown goes on to say that play is integral for how humans are designed to learn. Yet just when we want to create agile working and learning environments, the arch ‘enemies’ of creativity and collaboration, like stress, overload, high levels of compliance and controls are rising. This is resulting in global disengagement sitting at an all-time high (c. 85% in the USA at ‘breaking point’ – 2013. Similar results in the UK, India and other nations and is on the increase).

The bottom line is, if businesses want to innovate, leaders must create environments where play and learning are fused into the culture of the workplace. This does not mean only in a separate learning environment, it means fusing play into meetings and the day to day working operations.

This is not saying we should never be serious at work, it does mean we understand the difference between childish and childlike. Humans are wired to be childlike throughout their life. Play is not only essential to develop trust, collaboration and innovation, it is essential for our biological, psychological and emotional wellbeing, without which we cannot change at the speed required.  It needs to be better understood by leaders and it must stop being called frivolous or fluffy nonsense, because play is the survival kit that we need to give our people when we hand them that one man boat and oar.

 “The opposite to play is not work, its depression” Dr. Stuart Brown – play@work – TED – Dr. Stuart Brown