The Power of Play

16-06-2009

The offer to take care of two dogs for two weeks in a little house at the Castle Forest Lodge on the slopes of Mount Kenya almost seemed to good to be true. The dogs are five months old, only listen to the Dutch language as the owner is Dutch and they playfully jumped on Matthew immediately after we arrived. Matthew fell backwards on the grass and a parental issue was born: how do we help Matthew to conquer his fear for the young dogs. Our views ranged from providing a safe haven to helping him explore the dogs behavior. Of course neither approach worked by itself, as we have continuously experienced over the last five months. The combination of the two approaches is richer and can be adapted based on his mood and fitness.

However we had overlooked another option. When Matthew and Sandra started playing a ball game, he soon got so into it that he forgot about the dogs altogether. He ran past the dogs several times without even noticing them.

The power of play is equally overlooked in business. Performance Management provides clarity around goals and behaviors, it does not add to playfulness in the corporate environment. The value of playfulness is that it leads you into new situations and makes you forget about performance, rather than to think about the consequences of failure.

Medical surgery and flying a Boeing may not particularly lend themselves for this playful approach. Just as we would not let Matthew off by himself on a track through the woods. But I think that the judgment call whether playfulness would work in the business environment is often more informed by our own fear, rather than the needs of that other person. In order to gain speed in businesses where people are at the heart of the business offering, we will need to trust people and the power of play more.

We promise you to intervene as soon as Matthew starts barking.