The urge to play is often seen as a frivolous pursuit, something that adults should put aside in favor of more “serious” activities. But play is essential to our productivity and creativity at work. Through play, we learn how to solve problems, think outside the box, and cooperate with others. Play is also a great way to relieve stress and boost morale in the workplace. So if your team is feeling uninspired and stagnant, consider building play into your office culture. You might just find that it’s the best way to get their creative juices flowing and increase their productivity.
Play Isn’t Child’s Play
When most people hear the word “play” they think of what children do at the playground, not so much as something that adults do. Play, as we mean it in this article, is any activity done purely for its own enjoyment. It will be different for everyone. For some, it will be hiking, for others painting, and still others will pull out a jigsaw puzzle. Play is just as important for adults as it is for children because it’s critical to ongoing development and professional success.
Specifically, play is a crucial component of creativity and innovation. Too many people seem to think that creativity is something people either have or do not have. I was guilty of this for years. I assumed that since I wasn’t an artist, musician, or designer then I simply lacked the creativity gene. But art is just one type of creativity, and everyone is capable of being more creative than they are right now.
Break The Routine
As adults, we tend to be very routine-oriented. We wake up at the same time on the same side of the bed, get ready the same way, drive the same route to work, etc. Routines can be very comfortable and stabilizing, but they inhibit creativity.
When you think about it, it makes sense. New ideas can’t be generated by following old paths, so novelty is required for the brain to make new connections. Simple things like taking a new route to the office or going for a walk on your lunch break can make a big difference. Taking time for genuine play by going on vacation, playing a round of golf, or skydiving is even better because it wakes up and shakes up your creative centers and translates into better workplace performance by improving problem-solving, enhancing creativity, and kick-starting innovation.
Lead With Play
As a leader, incorporating play into the culture of the workplace can be transformational. Studies have shown that play at work leads to stronger relationships between colleagues, improved problem-solving, and increased innovation. While some companies have taken this concept very literally by installing ping-pong tables and yoga studios, those kinds of investments aren’t necessary. Having outdoor walking meetings when it’s just a few people are incredibly effective, and was a favorite tactic of Steve Jobs. For larger meetings, just taking it outside can make a big difference by changing the atmosphere and eliminating the subliminal hierarchy that occurs around a boardroom table.
Give it a try. Do a puzzle, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or take a hike. Challenge yourself to incorporate play into your routine every day, and encourage your team to do the same. You’ll be amazed at the improvements in engagement, productivity, and creativity. What do you have to lose?