Want To Create Change? Learn To Play

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“A wise man once said that all human activity is a form of play. If we waste time looking for life’s meaning, we may have no time to live — or to play.” – Arthur C Clarke

I’m a pretty big believer in the power of play. My company’s name, Colludo, is Latin for “play together.” I believe play can bring us together in a way that will help us solve complex problems.

But unless you’re talking about sports, the idea of adults playing is somewhat misunderstood.

Either misconstrued as sexual, or immature, subcultured or harnessed into pantyhose in the form of a dreadful icebreaker at the beginning of a sitdown-shutup-and-listen workshop, play beyond a certain age has a pretty weird reputation.

And while in recent years there has been a greater understanding of the importance of play for adults, it seems the results overall are often lukewarm.

That sweet open-concept office culture, offering Friday ping-pong potlucks and Lego brainstorm sessions, still prescribes a certain kind of play as a condition necessary for creativity and innovation. Not to say ping pong and potlucks and Legos aren’t kick ass. It’s just that this presupposes that a certain, specific kind of play will create a successful, creative team.

That kind of play isn’t effective for everyone because it assumes we all relate to each other in the same way.

Play is about relationships, and is actually one of the most basic ways we learn about ourselves and how to interact with each other, and with the world. We can’t force it, prescribe it, or dictate it.

The National Institute for Play describes seven play types:

  1. Attunement, which establishes a connection, such as between newborn and mother.
  2. Body, in which an infant explores the ways in which his or her body works and interacts with the world, such as making funny sounds or discovering what happens in a fall.
  3. Object, such as playing with toys, banging pots and pans, handling physical things in ways that use curiosity.
  4. Social, play which involves others in activities such as tumbling, making faces, and building connections with another child or group of children.
  5. Imaginative (also called “pretend” or “fantasy”), in which a child invents scenarios from his or her imagination and acts within them as a form of play, such as princess or pirate play.
  6. Narrative (or storytelling), the play of learning and language that develops intellect, such as a parent reading aloud to a child, or a child retelling the story in his or her own words.
  7. Transformative (or integrative), by which one plays with imagination to transcend what is known in the current state, to create a higher state. Also known as innovation.

It seems we want to jump straight to transformative play – we want to innovate. We want sparks to fly and great things to happen.

But do we seek attunement? Do we have the skills necessary to connect with each other in this way to play together in transformative ways?

We seek transformation, but have difficulties with establishing the basics of play: real connection. To ourselves, and to others.

I’m certainly not suggesting that next time we need to think big thoughts, we all curl up with our business partners in a rocking chair and snuggle first.

But seeking attunement with those for whom and with whom we are trying to create change needs to happen before we can start truly transforming.