One of the fun things about working in Play is that you get to tell people ‘I work in Play‘. Reactions vary wildly. It’s good to see, though, that many believe that the ‘defence of play’ has already been won. When I say to these people ‘Play Isn’t the Opposite of Work’, they’ll say ‘Of course not. Does anyone still believe it is?’
The answer to this question is a definite yes, unfortunately. In fact, in spite of the self-selecting audience of this blog, I’d assume most of my readers will think that Work and Play are opposites. Let me gently try to shake that belief if you do.
The main reason I don’t have this conception is a straightforward definitional one: if Play and Work were opposites, nobody’s play could be their work, yet clearly for some this is so. Great actors all play at work, as do artists. But so, I might argue, do antiques dealers (indulging their inner Collector persona). And we all know people for whom their work – so dull-seeming to us – is clearly their joyous play. Hairdressers who love it, or even accountants who find slotting the right numbers into place is like a giant delightful Sudoku. Okay, steady on!
Further, I’d argue that to be really good at work you have to play at it. You’ll hear me saying again and again that I don’t think the reason to undertake Play is for its other benefits, but that doesn’t stop it being the case that Play unlocks creativity and innovation like nothing else. When faced with a balance sheet that just won’t balance, stepping back and having a play is ofter the only way to sort it. No, I’m not advocating making up the numbers, but staring at them in agony that they don’t change no matter how wide you open your eyes won’t fix it either.
We need fluidity at work. Flow, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would refer to it. A factory-worker making high-end cutlery will tell you it’s as much about the rhythm and the tempo at which you strike the worked metal as any sort of robotic precision. When you play at work you bring life into your work. And you’d better hope that you’ve been employed for being a live person rather than an automaton!
The biggest reason to play at work, therefore, is because you shouldn’t fence-off living fully from 8-10 hours of every day. Play is as important as food and water and sleep for truly thriving, so it doesn’t make sense to me for you to jettison it for a third of your life, just so you can earn money to have those other things!