Play is Serious Work

“I always think that focusing on fun is being lazy.”

The woman who typed these words had just asked a question about how to get motivated in the face of debilitating physical challenges that are affecting her work and her ability to produce. The expert leading this workshop responded that sometimes we simply need to focus on joy and having fun–especially when faced with so many obstacles.

Yet, this woman–dealing with more challenges than many of us–struggles with an issue that has been ingrained into the American psyche, to the detriment of us all. The idea that play or fun has nothing to do with work.

We’ve been taught that somehow playing is childish and a waste of time. Imaginative play has always lived in the space of childhood–reserved for growing minds as they explore the world. As adults, its time to get serious and get to work.

The “childish” world of play.

Psychologist Lev Vygotsky, best known for his socio-cultural theory of development, said:

“A child’s greatest achievements are possible in play, achievements that tomorrow will become her basic level of real action.”

In 2011, Dr. George Land revealed the results of a longitudinal study on creativity at TedxTucson. He and his team had developed this test on creativity originally for NASA, and the results astonished them so much that it lead to a longer study on children. The results reveal a lot: 98% of children ages 4-5 are creative geniuses. This number drops as children get older. As adults, only 2% are still in contact with our creative genius.

What changes between those early days of childhood, and our adult world? We can talk about education, societal expectations, and all of that. Or, we can think about the fact that young children play with possibilities, and imagine themselves conquering whatever they can dream up. Nothing is impossible in a world of play.

Adults. Well, we focus on practicalities and realities. We have serious jobs to do. Fun and play are frivolous–reserved for only specific times and locations.

No wonder we have lost touch with our inner creative genius.

The serendipity of play

In a world changed by pandemic, questions about play and creativity have become more important. As businesses rely more and more on controlled virtual meetings–the spontaneous, serendipitous, and often playful “water-cooler” interactions that lead to true innovation become difficult to recreate.

In an article for California Management Review, Shiko Ben-Menaham and Zeynep Erden, explored the question of how business can ensure creative interactions among people during pandemic conditions. They write:

“[. . . ]the main ingredients of a serendipitous discovery: A person engaged in a (latent or explicit) search for a solution finds themselves in a setting that enables a surprising association between previously unconnected pieces of information, jointly leading to an unexpected solution. Situations like these are not only common in daily life, but indeed all-important sources of creative problem-solving and innovation in organizations.

Ben-Menaham. Shiko and Zeynep Erden. “Safeguarding Serendipitous Creativity During the Covid-19 Pandemic.” California Management Review, November 17 2020, https://hbr.org/2008/10/creativity-and-the-role-of-the-leader. Accessed 19 February 2021.

Imagination, creativity, and innovation often occur in those moments when people interact or collaborate playfully. Moments when unexpected connections and possibilities occur simply because we focus somewhere else.

Enter the Global Play Brigade

In the early days of the pandemic lock-down, an amazing group of people realized that the world has a need for connection in fun and meaningful ways more than ever. So they built a movement–a virtual extravaganza of play and fun-filled workshops, moments, performances, and opportunities to connects. All of these events are developed by volunteers throughout the world who recognize that humanity needs new ways of coming together, and that connections can be built through play and creative interactions.

From the Global Play Brigade mission statement:

The Global Play Brigade (GPB) has emerged in response to the global pandemic that is affecting all of humanity. We are artists/performers/therapists/educators who come out of the growing social movement of performance activism. We believe that integrating and utilizing play, impro, clown, theater and therapeutics into everyday life is a vital methodology for creating hope, possibility, emotional well-being and development.

I have had a connection with some of the original founders for several years now, so when invited to my first GPB event, I joined because I thought it would be fun.

It was fun, and so much more.

I found home. I found a community of people who recognize the power of creativity, imagination, and play to make fundamental changes in society. I found theory in practice–proving to me that joy and play can accomplish amazing things.

I discovered more tools for my own creative toolbox. The toolbox I use to mentor and inspire others, as well as in my own workshops and work.

As I have become more involved in this organization, I have come to truly understand that play is, indeed, serious work.

Want to get involved? Sign up for one of the upcoming GPB events. I promise, it will open up your world to infinite new ways of being, becoming, acting, doing, playing, and working.

Author: Lisa Kramer

Lisa A. Kramer is a lover of words, stories, and the power of all the arts to strengthen communities and bring understanding. Her first novel, P.O.W.ER was the finalist for the Sarton Literary Prize for Contemporary Fiction. Author of P.O.W.ER. She is also the author of non-fiction and short stories. She holds degrees in English and Theatre from Smith College" an MFA in directing from the University of Hawai'i, Manoa, and a Ph.D. in Theatre for Arizona State University. She is the co-founder of Heart Forward-a company that communities through the creation of innovative artistic projects—at home and abroad—that challenge ourselves, our audiences, and our collaborators to find strength in shared stories and to foster social change. Lisa is also a Creativity & Innovation coach and the co-Founder of Yes, And . . . Creativity Coaching.

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