Imagine being in a work environment where you are allowed – even encouraged – to be playful. This shift is occurring in leading organizations. Whether it’s bean bag banter, volleyball, rock climbing, or access to a game room with Lego and arcade games, such organizations are providing activities throughout the day with the goal of inspiring new ideas, encouraging creative thinking and giving employees a mental break whenever they need one.
While some people may think of play as a distraction that takes time away from the “real work,” consider for a moment if your work experience – and, therefore, your output – might be improved from being more playful. Would you be more engaged? Would you be more likely to run with bold new ideas that create positive change for your department or your organization? Would you feel that the hard line between who you are at work and who you are in your personal life would start to blur? Would you feel that you are bringing your whole self to work instead of a small part of yourself engineered to fit your job description and the role that you are expected to perform?
We have been conditioned to think that play is reserved for children or for “creative types,” that for serious business results and to be taken seriously, you need to be serious. But what if the opposite is true? What if not taking yourself too seriously is the key to bringing out your best self at work?
To develop a culture of creativity, I encourage you to embrace this technique: Be a big kid.
It can be easy for a large company to quell creativity, so most large businesses need to be strategic about maintaining a non-bureaucratic mindset. When I was a consultant for Cirque du Soleil, my task was to ensure their top talent were performing at their peak. One of the reasons that Cirque has continuously come up with creative ideas is that it is committed to nurturing an environment that stimulates its people. In business meetings, managers encouraged the unleashing of their inner kid by insisting on having a clown present. This simple approach (there are clowns a-plenty in Cirque du Soleil) ensured that people were not taking themselves too seriously.
If professional clowns are not a staple in your organization, how can you bring out the big kid in everyone in order to encourage bold new ideas?
Think about the circumstances in which play shows up in your life. It happens when you play a game, watch a comedy show, participate in or watch a sport, or engage in silly banter or flirtatious conversation.
Now, think about the energetic state you are in when you are immersed in any of these playful experiences. You are more likely to be physically expressive, your voice takes on a different tone, you’re having fun and laughing a lot more, your body language communicates that you are relaxed, and you’ve likely let your guard down and are taking bolder action.
Here’s how you and your employees can be a productive big kid at work and drive creativity and innovation: Recreate the energetic state of playfulness
Create an environment of psychological safety where team members have the freedom to be playful and “act as if” during brainstorming meetings. If you think that donning a giraffe hat is for playing at home with your four-year-old kid, think again. Try having some silly hats or some red clown noses handy, channel your inner Groucho Marx, and see what happens. When you’re in a group setting and no one is fitting the norm, it signals to people that they can be themselves and don’t need to take things too seriously. They are more likely to shed that “I’m too cool to be a clown” armor when everyone in the room is encouraged to embrace his or her inner child.
The result of this energetic shift will be a boost in creativity, productivity and morale, as well as a more energized, collaborative workforce — all must-haves in any high-performing business environment.