The Art of Play

If you’ve read my definition of colludo, you’ll know that I think playing together will help bring us together for the greater good. But the idea of “adults playing” is somewhat taboo: either misconstrued as sexual, immature, or one of those dreadful icebreakers we have to do at the beginning of a professional (sit down and listen) workshop. Unless, of course, you play on some kind of organised sports team.

I think there is movement towards a greater understanding of the importance of play for adults, but the results are often lukewarm. That sweet open concept office culture, offering Friday ping pong potlucks and Lego brainstorm sessions, still prescribes (forced) team play as the ultimate condition for creativity and innovation. Not to say that ping pong and potlucks and Legos aren’t kickass. It’s just that this presupposes that play will create a team. What makes a great team is something I look forward to delving into in the future, but for now, let’s focus on the ludo; the art of play.


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. For example, a person might experiment to find a new way to use a musical instrument, thereby taking that form of music to a higher plane; or, as Einstein was known to do, a person might wonder about things which are not yet known and play with unproven ideas as a bridge to the discovery of new knowledge.

Notice how these are easily described in terms of play we would find recognizable in children and as we move down the list, we find necessary conditions for innovation. Transformative play would be paramount in innovation. What about attunement? Do we have the skills necessary to connect with each other in this way to play together in transformative ways? I realize this is a list and not a hierarchy, but I think there is something to be said of this basic kind of play in allowing us to come together to transform.

I want to take time every week to dig deeper into play, and why I think it is crucial in the work we do together to solve the world’s big hairy problems. And I also want to take time everyday to play – with my kids, with my husband, with my friends and cohorts, and in my own mind. I’ll keep you posted on my play, and I welcome you to explore your own ideas of play with me.