Creative problem solving through play is a serious strategy for companies to consider. After all, we spend the majority of our lives at work. If each person works eight hours a day, and has a one hour commute each way, then that leaves 14 hours of the day not work related. If you spent eight of those hours sleeping, you are down to six hours in which to exercise, prepare food and eat it, bathe and run errands. It leaves very little real time for play. Extrapolate the numbers over a 45 year working life and you get something like 900 000 hours at work over the average working lifetime. And if work is a place of boring beige cubicles and little joy, then it is almost guaranteed that creativity and play are not tools used to generate new ideas. Tom Robbins nails this essential part of the human condition when he said: “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
Unconventional and playful work places have a positive effect on the happiness level at work and also, the success of the company. Google is now well known for the playful features in their office spaces. They have not fallen into the trap of standardardising them in all their offices. Instead, the features vary from office to office, sometimes depending of the culture of the country. While there is only anecdotal evidence to support the idea that colourful and fun office spaces increase productivity and creativity, it can be argued that companies like Google must be doing something right, or they would not be doing so well.
Playful decor, while inspiring, is a superficial indicator that playfulness is encouraged. The key to employee engagement is to look at play as a way to reduce stress, allow freedom of movement and expression and help team mates to bond in an informal way. In 2013/2014 the UK HSE estimated that about 11.3 million working days were lost to work stress related illness with large and medium companies reporting higher numbers of sufferers. If play reduces stress, then it makes economic sense to foster a playful workspace, underpinned by trust, respect and a sense of ownership in the way work gets done.
Creative problem solving through play and mindfulness
Zappos, an online apparel store, takes employee ownership to the next level. They have a set of Ten Core values:
- Deliver WOW Through Service
- Embrace and Drive Change
- Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
- Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
- Pursue Growth and Learning
- Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More With Less
- Be Passionate and Determined
- Be Humble
Their aim is to have employees for life and their CEO, Tony Hsieh, makes himself responsible for “joyousness” around the office, which includes company barbeques on significant days, team space decoration, and their annual Culture Book which is a compilation of staff and customer opinion of the company culture and is published in a “real voice” format, without editing or censorship.
Zappos’ personnel evaluation system, is based on answering the needs for learning and growth (core value no. 5). The evaluation does not focus on whether work has been completed, but on what the employee has learned and how they have grown, and how they can move up in the company.
If you are still not convinced, The National Institute for Play in America has made a study of how fundamental play is to advancing humanity. They have studied how young children learn through play and have also studied how criminals often come from backgrounds devoid of play. They advocate play in corporate world with these words “Yet science already provides data to show that playful ways of work lead to more creative, adaptable workers and teams.”