Is There Play in Your Work?

John Stevens

Natural “player” that I am, my eye was drawn to a TED talk on the subject of play. How vital it is to a sane and balanced life. How to make it happen. How human play correlates with and can interact with animal play. Fascinating, at least to me! I hope you find it similarly engaging. The video is a little over 20 minutes long. For those short on time, I’ve noted the time on some passages that relate to parts of the talk I discuss. Of course it all “hangs together” better if you listen to the whole thing.

The speaker, Dr. Stuart Brown, is a lifelong student and practicing doctor of psychiatry and clinical research. He founded the National Institute for Play to further this fascinating study.

The big bear is ‘dancing” with his meal

In this talk Brown starts with a photo of a big polar bear intent on his next meal. When the bear encounters a husky in play mode, he engages playfully with her. Of course the little dog would have been a tasty meal for the bear. Her playful demeanor distracted the bear from his hunger.

Children, of course, unless they’re in pretty grim circumstances, are inclined to and usually encouraged to play. As adults, we become more concerned with doing things, we forget to play. To our detriment!

Doing something because it’s fun, or feels good, is beneficial to the human and, it seems, the animal spirit. Play should be focused on fun and enjoyment, even when it’s producing something useful. Ever notice that some golfers get so obsessed with improving their score that they aren’t fun to play with? Of course striving for improvement is natural and positive. When it becomes work, though, it’s not play.

Brown goes on to describe many kinds of play – e.g. social, object, spectator play. He talks about the brain science that supports the concept of the value of play. Of course, as he also mentions, play should not be at the expense of others.

Rats, often studied as a proxy for human instinctive behavior, can die as the result of not playing. Brown relates a study (at 11:30 in the video) which demonstrates that.

He points out that the basis of human trust is established through play signals. He defines neoteny, a word unfamiliar to most of us. It’s the retention of immature tendencies into adulthood, and it can be beneficial.

Criminal behavior has been a part of Brown’s research. He relates that many violent criminals have been found to have lived lives devoid of play. Kevin Caroll wrote a book (described at 15:10 in the video) about coming from a dreary childhood. He discovered that watching others play boosted his spirits. Following up on that, he made a productive life out of a situation that otherwise would have led to no good.

At 17:30 in the video, Brown recommends we all examine our lives. He suggests recalling something as far back as we can remember that’s big-time playful. Replaying such an experience can help you relate to your “fun side”. Among other things it will improve your creativity.

At 18:40 we begin hearing about an experiment with students playing with play. Among other things they explore how to make meetings more interesting. He suggests that all activity can be infused with play. Then there’s no need to stop working to play. Enjoy whatever you do. Have fun with it!

Writing these letters does that for me. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them! This writing is a highlight of my week.

A few months ago I wrote about the value of taking a break after a period of intense work. Today’s discussion of intentional play takes this conversation to another level. Taking a break is important. Perhaps with Brown’s advice we can incorporate fun with work, and with rest.

“Who Will You be – in a Month, or a Year?”

Ben Hardy, a coach, author, and mentor I’m working with, defines your “future self”. Want to be:

  • A better coach?
  • A better author, maybe even a best-selling author? (Ben is.)
  • A better mom or dad, husband or wife?
  • Someone you’re newly considering being?

That better or different “whatever” is your “future self”. It could even be a pilot, even if you’ve never set foot in an airplane. Your future self can be entirely different from who you are today.

Here’s a great example:

Friends from Canada have been here in Argentina since the travel restrictions began. He and his wife have had opportunities (expensive and difficult) to go back to Canada. They both work in financial services. They’ve managed to be quite effective in their businesses, and are staying, at least until travel becomes easier.

As an aside, this is yet another story of finding this perhaps the best place in the world during the pandemic. In a previous issue I mentioned this compilation of comments from “LECers”. Several wrote about their quarantine experience here.

My friend told me yesterday that his life has completely changed. He said if anyone had told him a year ago that he’d be playing golf and motorcycling in the mountains.he’d have thought they were smoking something funny. Those activities are among the things he’s learned to enjoy here. He says he and his wife are different people than when they came here. Having known them quite well for several years, I would agree.

Ben, my aforementioned mentor, is a huge believer in journaling – evening and morning. He says this will help you become your future self faster than anything else. Here’s a 15-minute article explaining that.

Why did I put evening before morning? Today started with last night’s planning. If you’re planning today when you’re already in it, you’re reacting, not planning.

With Ben’s guidance, I’ve become an avid journaler. I’d tried it before and given it up several times. Ben has shown me how to make it work.

Here’s Ben’s take on how to journal effectively and why it works so well

Instinct? Facts? What’s the Best Business Guide?

Many years ago (more than I care to admit) I started out as a young entrepreneur.

My business offered aviation charter and training services. After a couple of years I’d reached the point of hiring a salesman. Jack (not his real name) was quite effective in promoting our business.

Up to the time of this episode, we’d mostly been carrying freight. We were dabbling in the passenger side of the business and wanted to do more. We needed a more attractive airplane than we had at that time. Since we couldn’t afford new, we researched what was available for what price in used airplanes.

We settled on a particular type of airplane we wanted. Jack started promoting that airplane to prospects. After a few weeks, we found an example of the type we wanted at a good price.

Investigation revealed some flaws with the airplane. I decided its good price would leave us room to correct the problems we found, and we bought it.

Wrong!

That decision turned out to be the most expensive mistake I’d make. It was likely the biggest factor in the ultimate failure of our business. I won’t bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say my intuition, as well as some hard facts, told us to leave it alone. Jack’s success in promoting the aircraft pressured me to override all that. We bought an airplane we never should have owned.

Joe Scarlett was CEO of Tractor Supply Company for many years. He relates that he made some decisions that facts fully supported. Despite his intuition saying “Don’t do it.”, he did. He wished later he’d paid more attention to “that small voice”. Joe recommends we always listen to our “gut”.

We gather experience throughout our lives. In considering a particular decision we gather facts for a few days, weeks, or months. Sometimes our experience tells us the facts are leading us to the wrong decision. Likely the subconscious memories in our experience are guiding us well.

At the very least, we should carefully review the facts before we go where they lead us. This is a great example of where consultation with others can be invaluable. Others’ experience, view of the facts, and sense of urgency in moving ahead, will differ from yours. Listen and consider!

Here’s an article I wrote last year quoting Jessica Stillman. She’s OK with intuition…sometimes!

About to make a decision with a significant impact on your success? Best to consider the ideas these articles offer. I hope you find them valuable.

Want to Make Your “Star” a Leader? Caution!

In business, it’s a common observation. Good leaders may have little experience with the work their team is producing. A good drilling manager may or may not have been the best driller. A good sales manager may or may not have sold so well. And, of course, the reverse is often true. The best “do-ers” may not make the best leaders.

Here’s an interesting article from Six Disciplines, a coaching company I’ve connected with recently. It focuses on the common mistakes such newly installed leaders may make. My focus is always on the positive side of issues. I’ll explain a little of what can be done to avoid these mistakes.

First, generally, it’s often the case that these people show up brilliantly producing something. They’re very good at managing tasks and things. They may be good salespeople, so they work well with prospects, customers and clients. They likely have little or no experience leading others to do what they’re good at. Leading people effectively is very different from managing things and tasks. These people are good at leading themselves, managing their time and tasks to produce what they’re expert at.

We manage things – time, tasks and resources. We lead people!

The four issues identified in this article which may need more attention than these new leaders give them are:

  • Under-performance – Here, a team-member is doing less than his or her share of work, Often he or she develops a pattern of lack of engagement. Expert coaching and counseling are likely necessary. Addressing the issue promptly and directly, before it becomes a morale issue for others, is important.
  • Over-performance – A “rock star” may begin to develop his or her own “empire” within the organization. Everyone must be an integral part of the whole team. If someone is standing apart, he or she must be brought back “into the fold”. Again this takes expert coaching.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior – This is one of many forms of non-cooperation. It too must be addressed with good leadership skills. If this continues, it will destroy trust among the team members. That’s a serious morale and performance issue.
  • Conflict avoidance – Some people tend to “go along to get along”. They can become non-functional or low-functioning team members. Letting others “run over them” or control their behavior compromises their individuality. Good team members are self-confident individuals who cooperate in a team effort. Again, strong leadership skills are called for to help such people join in, in a healthy way.

So…is the high performer on your team a good leadership candidate? Some are. Some aren’t. Perhaps some education/training is in order. The skills a leader needs are completely different from those that made this person a high-performing “do-er”.