Collaboration—when adults come together to share vulnerability, learn to trust each other, and solve thorny problems—is adult play. While the stakes may be high, play is still an indispensable part of this process.
My last three posts have illustrated how play is essential to risk-taking and creativity. I expanded this discussion into the complexity of life and how we can model this complexity using computer-aided simulations to make virtual “playgrounds.”
My last post describes 5 Factors that Influence Effective Collaboration. Now, I am going tie all of these ideas back again to the idea of “play” and why it’s an indispensable part of our lives. I will also describe why computer-aided simulations are the future of effective collaboration.
1. Play is the basis for human trust, adaptive behavior, and acceptance of risk
Many think the lessons learned from a playground stop when we enter adulthood. I beg to differ. As I discussed in my post on effective collaboration, any time humans come together on the basis of a shared vulnerability, they must learn to trust each other before the collaboration will work effectively. The best way to enable this trust is to play together.
According to Dr. Stuart Brown, the basis for human trust is established through sharing play signals. Since the collaborative venue is not a play venue in the strictest sense, play signals are difficult to establish in this context.
So, how do people in a collaboration venue signal trust?
Trust is developed if people can collaborate without risk. In this environment, behavioral signals that reinforce a person’s trustworthiness and willingness to collaborate are exchanged.
Computer-aided simulations provide the best stimulus for the exchange of these behaviors. By dynamically representing the problem and system, the simulation gives feedback, and the participants must respond to it. By observing each other’s responses, participants can assess behaviors and develop trust (provided it is deserved).
2. Video game play is Play
When kids and parents play video games together, it improves their relationship and the child’s sense of well-being. Studies suggest that video games enhance cognitive abilities and provide positive emotional effects such as reducing anxiety and depression. It is thought that games provide a safe venue where we can fail, pick ourselves up, and keep trying. Games help us learn, grow, and overcome adversity by expanding our adaptive capacities.
Computer-aided simulations are generally more purposeful than entertainment-driven video games. Whether modeling a disaster scenario or helping a CEO to determine the best use of capital, they model the actual systems we use, without the consequences. Simulations give us the ability to play out different scenarios, fail, dust ourselves off, and try again. When used to facilitate a collaborative group, it can provide a venue for the group to share and exchange behavioral signals, to bond, and to build trust.
I wrote about this topic in greater detail in 5 “What If?” Questions Show the Power Simulation Software Brings to Business.
3. “Nothing lights up the brain more than play”
In his TED Talk, Dr. Brown describes a rat experiment with two groups of rats. One group was allowed to play as it grew up, while the other group was prevented from playing. When a cat-scented collar was placed into their cages, both groups of rats ran and hid. Over time, the playing rats ventured out to see if the cat was around. The non-playing rats never came out of their hiding places. This observation seems to suggest a correlation between playing and adaptive behavior and resilience.
EEG studies suggest the brains of people in play mode “light up” with activity. The frontal lobe of someone engaged in play begins to receive inputs from many areas of the brain in a “flow” of electrical signals. Play stimulates creative, adaptive problem solving.
When combined with the power of computers, adult play can be enhanced, providing a venue to fail safely.
Collaborations are not pretty.
Here I talked about how collaboration can get ugly when our innate desire to keep what is ours clouds our judgement. Until we can share a sense of vulnerability, we lack the willingness to empathize with others. Even with a sense of shared vulnerability, we have to learn to trust each other through playing together. Computer-aided simulations can provide an excellent venue for this to happen. Collaborators can play with each other, adjust variables in the simulation, see potential outcomes, fail, and try again—risking nothing in the process.
What is the future of better collaboration?
Computer-aided simulations provide an indispensable fail-safe environment. They enable the development of trust by providing a stimulus for participant response behaviors that are observable by others. They promote empathy by enabling teams to see the effects that their decisions are having on the rest of the group—in near real-time.
Using advanced mathematics, computer-aided simulations provide an immersive reality and model future outcomes effectively to help collaborative groups to experiment and play with adaptive strategies and actually see the return on their investments in resources, time, and energy.
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