Play is a seemingly trivial activity normally reserved for children, but when kids are engaged in play, there’s more going on than you might think—this includes learning benefits that can translate to business and help us solve problems through truly collaborative environments.
Playing is vital
In “Where The Wild Things Play,” National Public Radio’s Eric Westervelt describes a wonderful laboratory (playground) in Berkeley, California where children can experiment, build, tear down, and begin again without any apparent consequences. He described children and their parents running around and engaging in various forms of play, from building projects using a hammer and nails to screaming with joy as they rode a zip line.
According to developmental psychologists, children have a natural impulse to play, allowing them to self-organize and learn what it means to be human in these “managed risk” play-environments.
As they play, they develop skills in collaboration and applying tools to a problem.
As we grow older, play is replaced with work, and in many ways work shares the same features as play. When we work, we solve problems, we work with other people (often in teams), we collaborate with other organizations, we use tools, and we experiment. All of these activities can be found in both work and play.
The difference between work and play
The difference between work and play is the degree of complexity involved with the problem being solved, the formality of the group, and the consequences. In work-related organizations, there are more uniform problem-solving methods with an organized hierarchy to absorb risk-taking, and higher consequences in terms of safety, revenue, and quality. Often the problem spans several different organizations, which introduces political elements of organizational interests and money.
With risk and consequences involved in the equation, work becomes serious business. Decision-making is slowed down by the need to collaborate and align interests and by experimentation to improve understanding of the problem.
So how do we get the apparent learning benefits from play in the work place? The answer is… by building a work playground.
A new workplace vision
Think of a new paradigm where play is a form of work. To accomplish this, we would need to build virtual playgrounds where people could gather to solve problems together using commonly accepted tools. (Or, in other words, play and collaborate with one another)
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