Caution: Workers at Play

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” — Albert Einstein

One of the four “Ingredients of Creativity” is play. I am going to take a wild guess that your workplace isn’t condusive to play. In fact, playfulness is probably frowned upon in your office. I was once lucky enough to work in a place where that wasn’t the case.

It isn’t a coincidence that the most creative person I ever worked was also a master of play. He was just as serious about having a good time as he was about producing great work. Have you been lucky enough to work with someone like this?

If you are serious about play, your office will feel like a mad scientist’s laboratory where you are free to pursue whatever crazy idea crosses your mind.

In the lab you can perfect the art of molding gummy bears into other shapes.

Why not build an oversized indoor putting course?

Write a song to accompany your daily pudding breaks.

Invent a holiday (Taco Johnukkah) to celebrate eight days of lunch at your favorite restaurant.

Invent complex Nerf gun games with elaborate rules and give them names like “shoot the boot” or “Darticus.”

Even the dullest creative brief has possibilities when you are free to play.

In hindsight, I can’t believe our boss allowed us to do these things at work. Now it makes sense why client tours typically bypassed the creative department.

Although an atmosphere of fun was encouraged, not all our games were welcomed by our co-workers. Our jar of giant cockroaches wasn’t a hit. The “draw the body on Laura game” might have ended in tears.

Play often leads to pranks. We convinced a new hire that in order to use the bathroom you needed to log your time in a journal and check out a bathroom pass which consisted of a block of wood taped to an alligator claw. It took a couple of days before she caught on to our fun.

We had a fake security camera that we fooled people into believing was real. We recorded a video sequence that we could play whenever someone doubted the legitimacy of the camera. To “prove” it was indeed active, one of us would walk in front of the camera and wave. At the exact right moment we could switch the video loop to a pre-recorded video of waving at the camera. People never noticed that the clothes didn’t match the recording. It was great fun.

To the outsider, playfulness might seem like a waste of time. Are you wondering how much billable time we wasted? You might question how we got away with goofing off. You may wonder if we got our work done or missed deadlines. You might think we didn’t take our jobs seriously.

You would be wrong.

The magic of the playful environment we created was an atmosphere of fearless creativity. Our work was smart, effective, and done on time.

Our work only benefited from the unorthodox environment. After sculpting a life-size replica of a human arm out of gummy bears, otherwise crazy ideas for product promotion don’t seem so outlandish. Could we hire Brian Deegan to jump his motorcycle over our client’s RV lineup? Could we film a reality show where the main set was a Jayco RV? What if Bill Cosby was our spokesperson? Suddenly an RV industry consisting of big white boxes on wheels has endless possibilities.

So what do you do if you find yourself working in an office environment where play is not welcome? Before you just jump in and start shooting your co- workers with Nerf guns, consider starting smaller. Play is just one of the four “Ingredients of Creativity.” The others are space, time, and trust. My advice is to focus on the other three first. Play comes naturally when you have established trust, carved out sufficient time, and fought for the space your ideas require.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this one, check out some of my other popular posts:
- Brainstorming Advice from a Long Lost Isaac Asimov Letter
- Art of the Living Dead
- What Work Sounds Like

Stay creative.


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