For years many innovative management consultants, who pondered the value of play within organizations, conducted their work in isolation. After all, the idea of ‘play at work’ in Western society seemed a bit eccentric and not widely valued. However, when a handful of consultants met in Denmark in 2006, and began to collaborate, we recognized that we are seeing patters emerging globally. Collectively, we have identified that not only are business situations becoming more complex but that the old systems that people have depended upon for years are not only out of date, but are actually doomed for failure. Many organizations continue to insist that old successful patters will continue to bring the same results. They might be right as we cannot see into the future. But it is more likely that change has occurred slowly and insidiously over time taking them off guard. Due to past successes these organizations may not yet be uncomfortable enough to change. Those that have recognized that their old approach will now sabotage their future success, come to us open to try a new approach.
The new approach is one that we call Strategic Play. It comes from a basic premise that we are all hardwired for play. For managers to be able to successfully adapt in a changing business world they need to be able to engage their imaginations and play with ideas in a place that is safe. In this way play allows the player to have a type of dress rehearsal and prepare for the subtleties of the changing business environment and function comfortably with ambiguity. Within the Strategic Playroom everyone on the team can test out a theory, a hunch or a tried and true method and see if it will continue to bring successful results without putting their reputation or companies assets on the line. They can gather information from scenario testing that can be adjusted, built upon, or scraped all together without doing any damage. But at the same rate through play their imagination can form new cognitive combinations that will likely develop an innovative idea. The team can then spring board into the next combination of ideas bringing great clarity to the situation. In a playful approach, nothing is lost but only gained and the team leaves the Strategic Playroom feeling engaged, activated and focused with an accurate shared mental model.
Keep in mind, what we do is not just play for play sake, as we use applied systematic creative play. The activities are lead by a trained creative facilitator that sets both the stage and the rules of engagement. The play is focused and structured enough with developed etiquettes that create the layers needed for building blocks that take the player into deeper and deeper levels where the brain continues to function at both conscious and subconscious levels. It is through this process that the participants emerge with new insights. These insights may bring immediate actionable items or may percolate as the neurons within the brain connect, get tested and then sometimes break away and reconnect getting stronger and ready to put ideas into action, ready when the situation changes.
The fact that people enjoy the process of strategic play so much that they loose track of time is not just an accident, it is built into the approach. When we find ourselves fully in the zone, this is the state that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “flow” or the “flow zone”. This zone allows for the brain to think better and faster.
Research indicates that those who engage in this process of play are not only better able to problem solve but they are actually developing a higher social IQ. It’s clear in the changing world, and specifically for business a changing global economic environment, those who are able to “think quickly and respond strategically” are in demand over those who are just able to “do”.
We see the value of play at work – there are many more posting to come, so please stay tuned and we will continue to bring new ideas to this blog that we can all play with together.