Let’s play !

Let’s play!

Embrace the wisdom of your inner child is the subtitle of a chapter in Essentialism by Greg McKeown and it sums up nicely what is important for people to not get lost in the many tasks, must do’s and to do’s…

When our inner child comes alive, it lifts our spirits. It helps us get rid of conventions and let our imagination flow. Nobody has to teach us how to play. Whenever children unleash their imaginations playing make believe games, they are in a flow that we tend to forget or, even worse, are taught not to do anymore: it’s childish, it’s trivial.


Well, guess what: it’s not! Isn’t it amazing how we are taught – and we tend to believe it – that play is only for children? We learn through playing. We learn social norms, we learn to wait, to evaluate, to count, to speak, interact, communicate through play!

I personally never believed that playing is only for children. Play is not a waste of time, it is not unnecessary!

I am happy to see that more and more schools recognize the importance of play! The word school derived from the Greek schole, meaning leisure.

It is only our modern school system – born in the Industrial Revolution – that separated the leisure part from the learning process! 

We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, ad it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies… Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves. (Sir Ken RobinsonBring on the Learning Revolution!, TED talk February 2004)

Play is not trivial. Fortunately, more and more companies have team building events where they explore play. Those companies who focus on efficiency and mass production of goods, still follow a less-than-playful way to lead. The mere vocabulary they use says it all: being in the front lines, company (deriving from the military unit), endure the work etc. demonstrate what their underlying culture is.
When we play we are joyful and when we do things not for the means to an en – some do, but that’s not the play I mean here.

Play has the power to improve everything from personal health to relationships, to education and to organizations’ ability to innovate. Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity (Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, and TED talk: Play is more than just fun)

The positive effect of play is that we stay flexible. It’s during play that we feel most alive and creative. Play fuels exploration in three ways (I quote from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism, p.86-87):

  • It broadens the range of options available to us – Albert Einstein said that “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge” [I suppose the term fantasy in this translated text stands for imagination] Conversation between Einstein and János Plesch in János Plesch’s János: The Story of a Doctor, transl. Edward FitzGerald, London, Gollancz, 1947, p.207 
  • It is an antidote to stress (Supirya Ghosh, T. Rao Laxmi, Sumatra Chattarji, Functional Connectivity from the Amygdala to the Hippocampus Grows Stronger after Stress, Journal of Neuroscience 33, n.38, 2013. www.jneurosci.org/content/33/17/7234.abstract)
  • It has a positive effect on executive function of the brain*

We should all restore play in our daily lives, not only because “Columbus was at play when it dawned him that the world was round, Newton was at play in his mind when he saw the apple tree and suddenly conceived of the force of gravity, or Watson and Crick were playing with the possible shapes of the DNA molecule when they stumbled upon the double helix”.* or
Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins does so at the end of the famous musical.

Playing with our colleagues or children helps us connect with them in a playful not too serious way. We can explore other ways of communication, create rapport and all this, while enjoying time together!
I recently published an article about the way to connect with locals through gaming. There is an increase of places where adults can play games, board games and card-games with other adults. I think this is a very healthy development, away from the efficiency focused and all too strict way to consider work and efficiency after the Industrial Revolution. It is about time...


– Let’s go fly a kite!

What did you enjoy playing as a child?

What do you play today? Do you play with your children (if you have young children I suppose you do, but what if you have older ones)?

*Edward M. Hallowell, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press, 2011, p.125Read my article about connecting with locals through gaming

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