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Play is Essential

When we hear the word ''play'' or ''game'' we often relegate it to ''outside of work activities", right? Play is often seen as frivolous and trivial. But what if it's the exact opposite?

Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institutes of Play, came to his life's work in an interesting way. He was on a team who investigated all the various data on why Charles Whitman committed mass murder at University of Texas, Austin in August 1966 (at the time the largest mass shooting in US History).

''[Prior to the shooting] Whitman had been under extreme unrelenting stress..." and "[he] had been raised in a tyrannical, abusive household. From birth through age 18, Whitman’s natural playfulness had been systematically and dramatically suppressed by an overbearing father.
"A lifelong lack of play deprived him of opportunities to view life with optimism, test alternatives, or learn the social skills that, as part of spontaneous play, prepare individuals to cope with life stress. The committee concluded that lack of play was a key factor in Whitman’s homicidal actions – if he had experienced regular moments of spontaneous play during his life, they believed he would have developed the skill, flexibility, and strength to cope with the stressful situations without violence."*

Play is essential in order for the healthy development of children's minds. Furthermore, we now know that the brain does NOT stop developing once we get through adolescence. So why do we think that play is not needed as we continue to learn, grow, and develop throughout our lifespan?

And sure we may play on a soccer team outside of work, but what would happen if a playful way of being was integrated into our day-to-day work lives? What would be made possible?

Let's define a playful spirit as one that feels the freedom to create, experiment, fail with a sense of curiosity and collaboration. Yes, playfulness also includes the sense of, "I have enough energy and vision to generously support others."

What does a workplace devoid of play feel like? Right now, what do you feel in your body as you imagine that? I feel a tightness, a feeling of not being connected, a feeling of fear of ''I gotta get this right the first time."

And what would a workplace with playfulness integrated in feel like? I think it would one where we would show up because we feel supported, alive, curious, and joyful. And I would argue along with others that a playful workplace seriously boosts our productivity. Rather than slacking off, people actually are more creative and collaborative - which are keys to solving complex problems.

Applied Improvisation is about increasing the freedom in the room - to experiment, take risks, collaborate and connect. Yes, we are not going to learn these skills overnight. It's really about asking yourself, ''How do I intend to live?" and "How do I intend to lead?" and then actively building the neural/visceral pathways to make that way of being habitual.

What's one small step you can make today to become more playful? Watch how your playfulness can give others permission to show up with their playful self. And what is made possible because of this?

Because really, we have a choice. Do we want to let the extreme, unrelenting stress win the day? Or can we step into a new way of being and invite others to join us?

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