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Operation monkey business: Can being playful help develop ideas?

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At In Movement we work with businesses on culture change, leadership and employee engagement projects. My approach is a little unorthodox: it’s based on movement and play. But this makes perfect sense if we’re talking about how to keep moving, shifting, being in a race and keeping up.

We are interested in how play changes the way people work together. As a child, we learn how to play and as an adult it can have a huge impact on how we build relationships, communicate, develop ideas, solve problems and form strategies even.

Here’s something I said to my clients at In Movement recently: “After three I would like you to find a way to get to the other side of the room. When you get there, stay there. One… Two… Three… Go!”

This is what happened:

  • Many people walked;
  • Some people side-stepped;
  • One person climbed over chairs;
  • The speed was fairly similar throughout the group; and
  • Eyes rolled.

When I asked people why they did what they did, few had a reason; they had just completed the task. How familiar does this sound in the workplace?

We repeated the game a few times, and in different forms. And this is what happened:

  • There was more variety, each journey became more elaborate;
  • People gave themselves a purpose; the shortest route, to be behind someone else, to be close to the ground, to be the highest;
  • The group was noisier, there were more discussions;
  • Leaders, followers, supporters and collaborators emerged, but didn’t always stay the same;
  • People took more risks as the game went on;
  • The journey might have started in one way, but would change along the way; and
  • There was laughter and excitement

What was most exciting is that the more we played, the more we found a flow. As things happened people would respond and react, without thinking twice about it. They cared less about what they looked like and made decisions in the moment that not only achieved the task, but felt good in the process.

How can play help you be more adaptable?

1. The right place at the right time

This is not about luck, but about being aware and open to what is around you.

2. Flexibility

Even when you have a well thought out plan, events can change. Being agile and moving with what is happening in front of you will enable you to tackle the unexpected.

3. Exciting interactions

In chaos, when everyone is contributing, ideas mingle, morph and swap. Everyone comes together, contributes and adds value.

4. Finding Solutions

It’s very easy to get stuck and stand still, but as we found: it’s boring. When we move more and play new ideas, new thinking and new ways of working will develop.

5. Being ready

Your response to any given situation will affect the outcome. Being in charge of your response and trusting in it brings success.

6. Surprise

People love it when you surprise them, come up with the unexpected, and move beyond what was thought to be possible.

7. Change

Play enables people to relax and open up. A balance is struck between feeling good, challenge, creativity and productivity.

Catherine Wilks is founder and director of In Movement, working with businesses on culture change, leadership and engagement projects.

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