In 2017 I had an opportunity to learn about an extraordinary team of visionaries and creatives both at C2 (the conference) and from C2 (the team). To say my eyes were opened wider would be an understatement. I chalk it up as one of those significant time investments in shifting mindsets we need to make at frequent intervals.
My first experience was attending the C2 conference. This is a unique gathering in Montreal of people and industries from around the globe. In one flash we’re nestled below the big top tent’s projected Amazon Rain Forest canopy listening to smooth jazz, then to Group GM of Electronic Arts talk about lessons learned from "Assassin’s Creed" and "Star Wars Battlefront 2." I learned a ton; my mindset was shifted.
My second experience included a two-day strategy workshop planned and facilitated by the C2 team. It was among the most creative strategy sessions I’ve ever been a part of and one I will not soon forget. Out-of-the-box thinking exercises, destinations, and activities were the orders of business. In ingenious ways, the teams explored complex topics through sculpture, invention, and storytelling. It was at this event that the C2 team introduced the term “meaningful playfulness."
Play has long been believed to create positive and holistic benefits. The body releases two chemicals that affect our physical responses to different stimuli. Cortisol and dopamine both regulate the balance between reward motivations and stress sensations. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Play has a powerful ability to accelerate the release of dopamine, affect the autonomic nervous system, and influence emotions.
As intensity increases around your emotions, your autonomic nervous system kicks into high gear. Controlling functions like heart rate, breathing, sweating, etc., your body is reacting. Research suggests that the more your emotions fluctuate, the worse you are at things like memory and making good decisions. Which is why too much stimulation leads to fatigue and overload and we can only play games so long before we begin to physically feel the effects. More importantly, we can’t always be up; it’s not how we’re wired.
It’s possible, however, to capture a particularly good part of the autonomic system into what’s called the parasympathetic system. Good, positive moods move into this area and can have a very powerful effect on decision-making. This system is linked to increased openness and creativity. Your processing and decision making become more effective and lead you to be at your best. The science doesn’t lie. Good moods and positive emotions have been extensively tested to show this linkage.
In Steven Stein’s book "The EQ Leader," he outlines a case on decision making strategies in a test by Joseph Mikel of DePaul University. In the case subjects were asked to decide which of four cars they would prefer when presented with a variation of mostly positive or mostly negative features. The subjects were manipulated with one set getting 75% positive features, another getting 50%, and the last getting only 25%.
So how did it fair? When it came to complex decisions, people using their feelings did a better job using their gut than those with fewer features to compare. They also found that those people were more satisfied with their decisions with fewer regrets.
So what does this all mean anyway? Meaningful playfulness leverages putting us into a positive state with our autonomic nervous system. Call it your happy place! If you can incorporate playfulness into your workspace, your entertainment, and your life, data suggests you’ll be healthier for it.
To the business world, the ability to “play” must find its way into the workplace. It can’t be a distractor. After all, as we all know, a high “play” and low performing culture is a social club! What we need to be looking for are ways to create what I call “playful interventions.” These are purposefully designed and incorporated in both permanent and semi-permanent destinations and create a harmonious balance to drive the best and most positive experiences.
Playful interventions take on many forms. They can include, as in my earlier examples, how meetings are redefined and conducted. They can also shift to both permanent and semi-permanent installed elements. I’ve seen everything from lobbies like the Comcast world HQ in Philadelphia to how financial services companies dedicate VIP club-like spaces to their top performing sales pros. Some of the most impactful are straight up games in places you would least expect them. Imagine the value of shifting the water cooler, coffee klatch to somewhere completely different. You can replace what typically happens in those destinations with something that helps people along their journey of uplifting and positive environments.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! What are some of the best playful interventions you’ve seen in the workplace?