Notes taken by me at the Churchill Club programme on the 17th February 2011.
Bill Lang – Founder, Scores on the Board
Gilda Howard – CEO, Gowrie Victoria
Trudi Pavlovsky – Founder, The Dream Initiative
What is Play?
Play is activity that is normally; enjoyable, not motivated by a desired completion, not motivated by external demands. It is the doing that matters, and with play, children are the experts.
There are lots of different classifications of playing, including:
- Practice Play – Provides critical opportunities for children to develop both individual gross and fine muscle strength and overall integration of muscles, nerves, and brain functions.
- Constructive Play – Constructive play is when the environment is manipulated to create things. It is a basis that is required downstream to be good at manipulating words, ideas and concepts.
- Dramatic Play – Where you learn to abstract, to try out new roles and possible situations, and to experiment with language and emotions with fantasy play.
- Social Play – By interacting with others in play settings, children learn social rules such as, give and take, reciprocity, cooperation, and sharing. Through a range of interactions with children at different social stages, children also learn to use moral reasoning to develop a mature sense of values.
- Games with Rules – Developmentally, most children progress from an egocentric view of the world to an understanding of the importance of social contracts and rules. The “games with rules” concept teaches children a critically important concept – the game of life has rules (laws) that we all must follow to function productively.
There are also a number of different ways of playing, including:
- Unoccupied play: the child is relatively stationary and appears to be performing random movements with no apparent purpose. A relatively infrequent style of play.
- Solitary play: the child is are completely engrossed in playing and does not seem to notice other children. Most often seen in children between 2 and 3 years-old.
- Onlooker play: child takes an interest in other children’s play but does not join in. May ask questions or just talk to other children, but the main activity is simply to watch.
- Parallel play: the child mimics other children’s play but doesn’t actively engage with them. For example they may use the same toy.
- Associative play: now more interested in each other than the toys they are using. This is the first category that involves strong social interaction between the children while they play.
- Cooperative play: some organisation enters children’s play, for example the playing has some goal and children often adopt roles and act as a group.
As we get older, we tend to spend a lot more time with Cooperative and Associative Play, basically dropping the others.
There was a suggestion that flirting and sex play are the main ways adults play. But nobody in the audience felt comfortable exploring that line of discussion.
Games are a subset of play, but often conversations around play end up about discussions on games only. You need to remember you can be playful without playing games. Games is play with rules and outcomes. Rules are necessary to prevent conflict and aid understanding.
Plato was also attributed as saying “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
Nagle Jackson said “The truly great advances of this generation will be made by those who can make outrageous connections, and only a mind which knows how to play can do that.”
Brian Sutton-Smith said “The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.”
Why is Play important?
Why do we have play? Play provides an environment where we can:
- Fail without consequences and therefore learn without pressure.
- Release thoughts that are normally constrained.
- See situations differently.
- Re frame ideas.
- Engage in different discussions than we normally wouldn’t.
- See or create new opportunities.
People at play are more present, engaged and passionate.
Being valued and involved with workmates, motivates people. Its important for everyone to feel they have a voice.
Happy people are more productive, and playing makes people happy.
As children we learnt through play, and those experiences stick. Adult training is mostly boring and generally consists of either short courses or “teach yourself”. Play is therefore a powerful learning tool (amongst other things) untapped by most adults.
Play engages the whole of you – your mind, emotions and body not just the brains.
Innovative Companies don’t use bureaucratic models.
So What is the Science of Play?
The part of the brain known as the Amygdala, has strong involvement in connecting emotions with memories and responses.
There appears to be an actual physical relationship (chemical) between thinking you can do something and actually being able to do it. So it appears to be true that “if you think you can, you can, if you think you can’, you can’t.”
Studies have also shown that activities such as lying actually makes you weaker and being proud makes you stronger. But what’s more fascinating is that we pick up the vibes of others and and our brain chemistry try’s to match theirs. So if you associate with people who think you are weak, you will become weaker, if you associate with “can do” people, you will become more capable.
Which is why adults disengage, because they don’t believe they can do things.
Play is a method or re-engaging adults and allowing them to change their “programmed” responses. Re-engaged, motivated adults means increased results from their work.
Recent studies into Neuro-placticity appear to indicate we can change the way our brains work even when we are adults, especially by using tools such as play. We can continue to learn and old dogs can learn new tricks.
What are the issues with Play?
Babies put things in their mouth to learn. The desire to pay is built into us. Children want to play to learn, in fact some activities appear to be required. Studies show that reading difficulties will ensure for those that don’t learn how to crawl. However between the ages of 12-15, play tends to vanish as people become adults. Play is then thought of as being childish and not a desirable activity.
Adults only tend to think of play as a learning tool that can be used to make them better at their work.
In organisations the is a fear of play as it doesn’t fit into the seriousness of work. There is also difficulty in running successful play programmes as it will not meet all learning styles, nor fit in with all cultural and generational perceptions. Therefore you will never have 100% engagement in play activities.
Fun ideas aren’t considered reliable, because they are fun.
What things can I do?
We can build play back into the fabric of what we do, to create happy engaged organisations, not just see it as a learning tool.
Some examples of playful behaviour in the workplace include:
- Pirate day’s, and inviting candidates to take $2,000 to not join the company at Zappos.
- Graffiti Walls, Pool Tables & Employee Artwork hanging on walls at Google.
- Slides between floors at places like Macromedia and Technical University of Munich
- At Cha Cha Sam they occasionally get up and sing or make weird noises.
- At Destra they would bang a large gong when they had something to celebrate or announce.
- Nerf ball fights, dead ants and competitions are also common.
Competition can also be made playful. In the military play is a normal learning tool to reinforce lessons and there is almost always “good” conflict inherent in the game. But there must be rules in the game for conflict to be okay.
In large corporates though, they want to be sold on the $ rationale
Accept that real life environments are never ideal. You cannot get the whole group engage because there are too many personalities involved.
Recognise that the optimal group size for games is < 7 and effectively facilitating activities for over 12 people is almost impossible. Online games can be large eg over 20,000 players, but this is because you only interact with a small handful at a time.
– end of report –