A US study conducted by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found that when CEOs were asked ‘What is the skill you most value in your people?’ they said, ‘Creativity, the ability to solve problems, come up with new solutions, and use brainpower to figure things out.’ The problem is that the industrial method of schooling has created a generation of doers not thinkers and the organisations and entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow desperately need people to be both.

Thinkers and doers

So how do leaders create thinkers and doers? Through what we experienced before we hit our mechanised method of schooling, although most of us have lost us adults—the ability to play with purpose.

How to play with purpose

Dr Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist, clinical researcher and founder of the National Institute of Play defines play as “a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life”. While it isn’t serious it does absorb the player intensely and utterly.

Ultimately, play is a catalyst for change and, as such, Dr Brown believes every leader must be able to play and lead their teams through purposeful play if they want organisational change and innovation.

The paradox of play

The paradox of play is that we’re encouraging seemingly non-productive activity and expecting it to impact our bottom line and to increase productivity due to the transformation of ideation. The truth of the matter is that if play activates ideas, creativity and innovative thinking then leaders cannot do without it in business.

How to play in business

Playing in business isn’t as simple as buying a table tennis table and putting it in the lunch room. It could, however, be a climbing wall in the lobby of a company whose values are based around climbing mountains, and every supplier, employee and partner is encouraged to climb. This was the case for the Sydney-based company, Blueprint Management Group which sold for $109 million a decade after it was founded. A simple example of play is to hold a meeting while walking barefoot on the beach while a new work challenge is considered. This feeling of skipping out combined with the outside environment can often lead to new ideation, changed behaviour, new strategies and ways of being because of the play.

Try it out

For leaders, the organisational key to play is the ‘try it out’ factor. This purposeful play offers simulations for the brain to try out, imagine and play with situations we’ve never experienced before, therefore allowing possibilities and new cognitive connections to find a space and a voice.

6 elements of play culture

  1. Anticipation to develop curiosity and the exploration of risk;
  2. Surprise to feel the unexpected or offer a shift in perspective;
  3. Pleasure for the whole body experience;
  4. Understanding to explore new possibilities;
  5. Strength for mastery to be achieved and survival of risk; and
  6. Poise to maintain a sense of balance and place.

When these 6 elements are at work in an organisation and the imaginative and new cognitive combinations are valued, these in turn change the shape of who we are and what we produce.

Purposeful play

We will never know the outcome of play until it is complete, for by its nature play is ever changing. However, one thing is for sure; the outcome for purposeful play will always lead to something transformational and innovative. As leaders value play, cultural shifts can also become a real possibility and it is all due to play’s nature and power to deliver change. With this in mind, it is time to embrace play—to take a chance with the view to long lasting wellbeing and change.