The other day I was playing a board game with my kids and I honestly can say I had the time of my life. Later, I did some self-reflection that resulted in what I wouldn’t call a groundbreaking realization, but it definitely shook my understanding of how I want my life to be. Here it is – I am so much more creative and inspired when I am not at work! Ha! – told you, not earth shattering. But that also made me question myself – how come there is a difference between my work and play self, and more importantly – why should there be any?
Many of us live life in two modes – a work-self from 9 AM to 5 PM, remember Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five song on this?, and a play-self for the rest of the time left before going to bed. Let’s name the differences. Imagine yourself in a work-mode – you are focused on your tasks, efficient and diligent. When working you are (at least more often than not) goal oriented, aware of your objectives and conscious of your time. It is all so very serious. In some more advanced cases you might even perceive tasks as tests in which you either succeed or fail miserably. (I got a tiny bit stressed only by explaining this)
On the other hand – the clock just struck 5pm. Did someone just say “beer o’clock”? Eh, why not, just let me take my work-self suit off. As your play-self now, you are cheerful, spirited, with a good sense of humor (one might even have called funny!) and full of life. Naturally, play mode delivers enjoyment. You are curious and adventurous. Moreover, you are not at all focused on goals and deliverables anymore. What truly matters is the journey.
I find the vivid contrast between the work- and the play-self quite fascinating. One tries to find what the other tries to avoid – status quo vs. freedom, goals vs. learning experiences, stability vs. surprise. But if you think about it, for centuries, artists - musicians, painters, and dancers have all utilized the strategies of play to create masterpieces. They had it right all along!
There is a rising number studies which advocates that play and fun foster creativity and inspiration. Furthermore, in their efforts to foster innovation, more and more companies are starting to realize the value of fun and are trying to integrate the element of playfulness within the organization’s culture. Games are starting to be increasingly more present at the core of techniques for improving the creative process. Such is the playful method of LEGO® Serious Play® that encourages sharing and building new ideas through playing with LEGO blocks.
When you play you often can’t predict the final product. Not focusing on the results allows freedom and flexibility for building new connections and conducting experiments. When playing you improvise, try things on, take on new roles and imagine yourself with different capabilities or even superpowers. This a profoundly different state of mind that opens your eyes to otherwise unrecognizable possibilities. Play increases the likelihood that you will discover things you might have never thought to look for in the first place. You disregard what does not work and build on what does.
I believe that the future of work and my view on work lays in a combination of one’s work and play mode. This doesn’t mean abandoning your current self for the sake of becoming more playful, but rather involves persuading your work-self to be more open-minded, take risks and embrace possibilities. This also has consequences for my personal and professional leadership. Should I focus on leadership with strategies or visions, or by using playful techniques? As most industries are falling behind, they need to rethink their culture, strategies and eventually also the modus operandi employees view their work. Again the pendulum will go to much more playfulness. When at play, people get more engaged. Engaged in each other, work and finding a good cause.
So, what am I going to do Monday morning? Keep my mojo – the source of all of your achievements and success, and spice it up with some fun from my play mode to bring out the unexpressed facets of my nature.
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