When We Hit PLAY

When We Hit PLAY

Banter in my Facebook tribe last Friday (yes, I’m on Facebook). A quote by Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of the revered book Magical Child, shared by friend and colleague Ann Sheybani, Book Coach Extraordinaire.

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

Nice. Leif Hansen, Business Improviser Par Excellence, counters with another Pearce quote.

Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.

Yes, I hang out with some heady peeps. At the end of a joyously packed week in which I engaged with friends and clients around the world, this Joseph Chilton Pearce brain infusion gets me thinking. So how DO we preserve a sense of play in our highly agenda-driven, crisis-managing, meet-performance-metrics-centered work world?

Many of us separate work and play. This separation is deeply ingrained in how we talk about the things we do. When I go on a trip, someone invariably asks me: Work or play? We all know the phrase Work hard, play hard, right! Goes hand in hand with let’s have a drink after work at the bar. Let’s go and play some golf. Play time, after work. Play is relegated to how we engage when the non-playful stuff is done.

Some thoughts on how we may begin to integrate a sense of play AT work.

  1. Make PLAY a conscious value.

The moment I decide that a sense of play matters, opportunities for playful engagement shout at me from every corner. The comment by my colleague Eric that really is quite funny. The glint in Suzanna’s eye as she talks about a new product idea. Signals. Eric and Suzanna are ready to play. My job is to notice. It’s a choice.

  1. Embrace the metaphor of PLAYING A GAME.

In peak performance lore, the question of how we play the game is a well-oiled metaphor. How do we play the game of life? The game of success? The game of personal satisfaction?

I like the allusions that come with the notion of playing a game. On the dark side, the metaphor can reinforce an obsession with always being the best and beating others. I gotta win, gotta win, gotta win. On the lighter side, it comes with the awareness that, well, we don’t win every game. But we associate playing a game with a sense of fun and excitement. An adrenaline rush. A pleasure in the act of doing. What if we carried this same sense into a meeting at work, a client phone call, a business lunch? After all, it is all just a game, isn’t it? Even when it really IS critical that we win.

  1. Choose to PLAY ON WORDS.

Since language is our most persistent mode of expression, why not play with it a bit? Language connoisseurs love the play on words. They realize that words can be fun. The layers of meaning in language can be fun. Let’s have a great time at this meeting, someone says. Why not do a riff on that? What does it mean? What all could it mean? What does it definitely not mean?

Word Play ignites two things: It can take us into the realm of silliness and absurdity. To many folks this is terrific fun and welcome relief in a routine conversation. Word Play can also drop us into the world of nuance and unexamined meaning. To more folks, terrific fun, as well.

  1. PLAY when things get stuck.

When a conversation goes round and round in circles, when the frustration rises, when the energy gets stuck, choose to get unstuck. In the world of Training and Learning, we do it by switching modalities. Lean into a different mode of expression. Go to the whiteboard and ask everyone to draw what their frustration feels like. Play some music and ask everyone to “shake out” their stress. Pull out some Lego blocks and give everyone 5 minutes to build something together that represents success. Yes, short breaks via a totally different modality. Shared PLAY. If you haven’t done it before it may feel like a big collective risk. But you know what? The energy always shifts.

PLAY is a choice. The moment we choose, opportunities are suddenly everywhere. So PLAY. Reconnect just a little with the magical child. The folks you’re with will be grateful. And guess what? You will get a heck of a lot more done, to boot.

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Achim Nowak is an author, speaker, C-Suite coach, international authority on personal presence. His book "The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World" (New Page Books) has just been published. His previous books have become prized resources for entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 executives around the globe. Achim and his work have been featured on 60 Minutes, Fox News, NPR, in The New York Times and The Miami Herald.