One game at a time


March 5th, 2011

Here’s something that puzzles me. It appears (and I’m happy to be proven wrong) that the higher you get in an organisation or the more serious your work, the less likely it is that you’re allowed or expected to be playful. I don’t mean to trivialize what’s important, but playfully exploring issues, and options, and ideas, and solutions, and relationships with each other. There appears to be an expectation of behaving oneself when doing work. That sometimes means sitting through some pretty dreary meetings. And I may be making this up, but I also have a sense that some people see playing as a waste of time, verbalised with “when are we going to start the real work?”

Over the last two weeks, Johnnie Moore and I have playfully explored facilitation. We’ve tried to emphasize that not all games and activities are designed to be used when facilitating (although they can be). Some are used to help us understand our own reactions and behaviours. It’s easier for me to unearth my supervising behaviour, my tendency to play safe, my irritation with people who don’t do things my way – and to explore other ways of acting – when playing a game. Then I can use my new knowledge about myself when I’m doing something else – facilitating, organising an event, meeting with friends, negotiating with a client.

We’ve heard a common concern about playfulness expressed in many different ways. It goes something like this: “It wouldn’t work with (insert client group, profession, culture, organisation etc).”

Given that everyone on the planet experiences love, loss, friendship, anger, has memories and hopes, can wonder at the stars and shed tears over an injustice, can be sad, and can laugh – is emotional – then what is really stopping us from being more playful? I can’t speak for others, but for me it’s fear. Fear of looking silly, fear of not being taken seriously, fear of being an outsider, fear of being the lone nut with no first followers. Fear of what others will think.

I’m intentionally trying to let go of these fears. Sometimes it’s hard. It’s easier with a friend who pushes, and pokes, and prods and doesn’t let me get away with saying one thing, and doing another (thanks JM).

A lot of things appear not to be working. Just look at what’s happening in northern Africa and the Middle East. Look at your own organisation. The more we try and control each other the less that seems to work out, sooner or later.

While the Ghandi quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a little over-used, it came alive for me these last few weeks. I can’t control what others think of me, or of my work, or of my approach. I can only be me, be the change, and hope that others who also want more playfulness in their lives and work, can be inspired to do something a little more playfully. Maybe it will be catching.

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