Blog > How to be more playful

November 29, 2011

I’m always banging on about bringing playfulness – which can be an attitude, a point-of-view, an approach – to work, to problem solving, to meetings, to life. “But how?” I hear you asking. Here’s a few ideas:

Have a play space – a space at work or in a conference for people to play: shooting hoops, hopscotch, just tossing a ball around… It doesn’t have to be fancy, just somewhere to get the body moving.

Have materials available (see the pic) They don’t have to be used, although they might be. Just having these available might encourage people to explore visual thinking, or ideas might emerge from looking at a problem from the perspective of a fish (yes, really).

Can’t quite figure out what to focus on? Try haiku. The limitation of a haiku (3 lines, 7, 5 and 7 syllables) encourages creative thinking. Make lots. Here’s one – it’s not very good (and that’s the point) Like chocolates, it’s hard to stop at one.

Playfulness gets a bad rap
Why? Play is fun and
helps us do our work better


We have serious work to
do. We can’t waste time
in play! That is sad.

Or try Essence, to get to the heart of something – especially if you are trying to describe something quite complex. Essence is a Thiagi activity, and while it does create a product at the end, the real benefits come from the conversations people have. In small groups get people to write (a description, proposition, elevator pitch – anything really) in exactly 16 words. Hear them all, then ask them to rewrite using exactly 8 words. And then 4 words. You can continue to 2 words and 1 word if it’s helpful. Depends on the circumstances really.

Paired Drawing is another favourite activity to get people playing with their thinking. In pairs, draw a face, taking turns, one line at a time. Silently (except for the laughter, of course).

Improv warm-up games. These games are designed to build a bridge between the day-to-day work that actors have been doing and getting ready for the stage (and after all, most actors have day jobs). The games might be simple physical warm-ups, and they might help get people out of their heads (and whatever might be worrying them) and into their bodies, they might aid in concentration, in focus, in empathy, in noticing. There are literally hundreds of these games. Often, any will do. People will make meaning according to what’s important for them. Games can also be a circuit breaker if a group is stuck in a certain pattern of thinking or looking at a problem. Games can provide metaphors, they can illuminate behaviours, and they can simply make us laugh. Sometimes we all need a good laugh.

All very well for creative thinking and problem solving you might be thinking to yourself. What about sharing important information? Surely nothing beats a good presentation, followed by a robust Q & A? Maybe – if the presenter is actually good. I’ve never seen a satisfying Q & A session, either there’s not enough time, too few dominate, it provides opportunities for grandstanding and soapboxing. Ah, don’t start me. Let me share some alternatives.

You’ve got a Very Important Report to share and want comments. Rip the report apart (especially if it has lots of pages). Give each person a page with the page numbers obliterated (of course) and get people to organise themselves into chapters, and then identify the key messages in each part.

The Board has just met and come up with some statements about the organisation that you have been charged with sharing with the staff. Sound familiar? Print out the statements on small cards and leave lying around the office for a few days. Feign ignorance if anyone asks about them. After a few days do some follow-up activity.

Staff have to learn a new procedure that’s to be implemented in the next financial year. Plant clues on your web site and in other electronic places, and on social media sites that your staff use, and create an on-line scavenger hunt.

Some key information has to be shared, and understood, by people. Use 35 (another Thiagi activity).

Many of these activity embody the improv principles that underpin playfully exploring serious issues: letting go (of limiting beliefs, of old patterns of thinking, of pre-conceived ideas); accepting offers (working with what’s available, building on each other’s ideas, silencing the judgmental inner and outer critic); seeing mistakes as opportunities (trying something lots, throwing out what doesn’t work, doing more of what does, small tilts to see the effects – some call this fast prototyping); being average (that’s right, letting go of the need to be seen as competent, polished, professional and opening up to new ideas and creativity).

Bringing people together, for a meeting, for a conference, for a gathering of any sort requires more than booking a time and a space. It’s our responsibility as leaders to take care of the human dimension too.

And one more important point about playfulness. It’s not a pre-requisite to have any ‘talent’ (though you might be surprised) – you don’t have to be an actor, or a performer, or an artist to be playful. All that’s needed is that you’re human. You are human aren’t you?


Share post on social media: