The Best Practices of Play

Saturdays are all about play at Colludo. I think we can need to come up with ways to play together to make big changes happen in our world. Change is big business, and in business there are these icky-yucky-pooey thing called “Best Practices” that, despite their best intentions, often leave us chasing our tails. 

Here’s a little story about practice and play.

When I was in university, one of my professors gave me an assignment that turned out to be impossible.

He asked me to play with a child (in my case, it was my nephews), in a “make believe” game of their choosing and document the rules, process, and infer best practices.

Every student struggled. It was a red herring of his own design: he was my creative writing professor, and the point was that there could be no successful completion of this assignment. Try as we may to write the rules, there were none. The process of this kind of play is a kind of beautiful nonsense, and what is best today simply does not inform what is best tomorrow. For this kind of unabashed imaginative play, the best practice is every practice, and “success” defined by the complete breaking of every rule. Dinosaurs ninjas in space today, wizard cowboys made of Legos baking cookies in space tomorrow, and platitudes of best practice have no place in the ninja space kitchen.

While he may have been a drug-addled beatnik who was always drinking something out of a Buckley’s bottle, the man had an important lesson for the self-proclaimed poets around the table. As “creative writers”, we needed to throw out every else’s ideas of rules and best practices to truly innovate our own craft.

They (Grown ups? Capitalists? Communists? Beatniks? My grandpa, who proudly brewed moonshine and carried a sawed off shotgun in his unlicensed Bronco?) say you need to know the rules before you break them.

But in play, there are no rules (albeit, common sense guidelines like “don’t pull your sister’s hair” or “mud isn’t pudding.”) The best practice is any practice that allows you to think outside the box – truly, there is no box. Unless that box is actually an oven on the moon.

If only our jobs could be wild west culinary interstellar sorcery. But somewhere between infinity and the confines of the dusty comb-bound/laminated document on your shelf entitled “Best Practices in <insert industry, organisation, idea>”, there is a space to be free in our ideas and our abilities to navigate with common sense innovation. It’s something we need to navigate daily, and the empty promise of a best practice only adds roadblocks to our relationships and our work.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my son is asking if he can climb to the top of our elm tree to catch a bird and dress him like a Ninja Turtle. I’ve got a tiny mask to sew.