P is for The Power Of Play

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Barbara Brannen describes what she calls Heart Play in her book The Gift of Play. She emphasises the value of  doing activities that make our hearts sing. You can find Barbara’s book via the following link.


“There is nothing more serious than play,” we are told. Play powers our imagination and help us to move forwards. Creative people retain this quality throughout their lives. As George Bernard Shaw wrote:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Great workers often translate this feeling into a clear purpose and work to achieve peak performance. They go through the process of absorption, adventure and achievement.

During the 1970s I sometimes applied these principles when running workshops. The aim was to enable people to be creative and perform superb work.

Looking at your own life, when have you enjoyed a sense of play and eventually translated this into superb work? You may have been designing a garden, solving a problem, tackling a stimulating challenge or doing some other project.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific example of when you enjoyed a sense of play and translated this into doing satisfying work – such as a project or other activity.

Describe the specific things you did then – the principles you followed – to make this happen.

Describe the specific benefits of doing the satisfying work.

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The Benefits of Play

Many people recognise the link between creativity and play. Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan underlined this point in their book Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul. They say:

“Serious play is not an oxymoron; it is the essence of innovation.”

The opposite of play is not work, say the authors. It is depression. Play helps to revitalise our soul. Here are some of the steps the authors recommend to keep this flame alive.


Be active.

Move. This is one of the keys to play. Translate this to your work by going for a walk, moving around, holding seminars in places that delight the senses. You will find that more ideas emerge.

Nourish your mode of play and be with people who nourish it, too.

“Find the play that feeds your soul,” say Stuart and Christopher. “Build an environment where people understand your need, and get out there and make it a priority to stay play-nourished.”

Fun is your North Star, but you don’t always have to head North.

The aim is to have fun. But along the way you will find many deviations. It is good to pursue those paths, because that is where play can take you. Sometimes you are discovering things that you did not know existed.

Stuart is the Founder of the National Institute for Play in the United States. Here is a link to the site.


Michael Schrage also shows the importance of play in this book Serious Play: How the world’s best companies simulate to innovate.

He focuses on how the principles of serious play can enable companies to build successful prototypes that lead to innovation.

Writing in the preface to his book, Michael explains his work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. Whilst there have been changes over the years, he explains:


“One constant, however, is the role of prototypes and play.

“The Lab’s unofficial credo Demo or Die! captures the prevailing belief that it is not enough to have brilliant ideas; you have to be able to demonstrate them.

“You have to get people to want to play with them.”

Michael believes this involves doing prototypes with customers. Great organisations often began by people pursuing their passion, translating it into serious play and then becoming profitable.

As they grow middle-aged, however, some just become serious and forget what made them great. They become grim and overweight.

They can sometimes revitalise themselves by revisiting their passion. They do some serious play – probably through prototyping – and help the customers to succeed. This can rejuvenate their people, their reputation and their business.

Tim Brown is the CEO of innovation and design firm IDEO. This is a company that often uses play to design products and find creative solutions to challenges.

You can see him speaking at TED via the following link.

Scott Eberle is an intellectual historian of play and a Vice President at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. Here is a link to the website.


Scott believes it is vital to encourage people of all ages to play. He says:

“Once we were all experts at play; as children it was our preoccupation and our main mode of learning.

“Play was the way we built our muscles, and it was through play that we knitted our friendships.

“Through play we learned to navigate the social world. We learned the rules. And play helped us imagine our future.

“Even if we did not grow up to be Jedi knights, or beautiful princesses we learned to envision adult power and responsibility.

“But imaginative play and rough and tumble play, because they are the work of children, tend to slip beneath our notice as adults. ”

How can you continue to maintain a sense of play? If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to look to the future and do the following things.

Describe a specific example of where you could build on your sense of play and translate this into doing satisfying work.

Describe the specific things you could do to build on this sense of play and do satisfying work.

Describe the specific benefits of doing this – both for yourself and other people.

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