“Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organised around doing the things necessary for survival,” so says Stuart Brown, psychiatrist, clinical researcher and founder of the National Institute of Play. “Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder — in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.”
So why, asks author, self-dubbed ‘accountantista’ and play-advocate Melissa Browne, are we so reluctant to make it part of our lives?
“Play is a paradox – the idea that this seemingly unproductive and maybe even wasteful activity could be transformational is so strange yet that’s exactly what the research tells us,” Melissa tells Collective Hub.
Further quoting Stuart, Melissa cites that “the ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.”
While we may take up bike riding, it’s easy for this to become competitive and lose its initial value.
“The real paradox of play is that while we’re calling this ‘play with purpose’. Dr. Brown argues that for play to really serve its purpose it needs to be purposeless,” Melissa says. “Which in our age of to-do lists, plans and targets just seems mind blowing and wrong! The truth of the matter is that if play activates ideas, creativity and innovative thinking then leaders cannot do without it in business or indeed in their whole of life.”
As an accountant by trade (but not by ‘nature’), Melissa considers herself the perfect person to prove how important playfulness is in your life and business.
“[Finance] can be but incredibly dry if you let it,” concedes Melissa, “but my argument is so can anything. Just because an industry has the reputation for being dry doesn’t mean you have to be. That’s why about five years ago… I started to play with the idea that my love of fashion, my love of business strategy and my love of numbers could somehow be fused.”
What resulted from Melissa’s creativity, among other developments, was a full-colour book, ‘More Money for Shoes’ which compares building a business to building a wardrobe and another entitled ‘Fabulous but Broke’ which uses fairy tales to challenge money mindsets.
And while she clearly understands the need for play first hand, she also understands why some organisations aren’t that eager to include it as part of their workday.
“As a CEO, I understand that productivity is important and that downtime can cost an organisation,” she tells us. “But my question is, what is the real cost of not trying it out? What creativity are you missing out on, what innovations are you lacking and what opportunities are passing you by because both yourself and your team aren’t invigorated through the benefits of play?”
And by play, we don’t just mean getting a foosball table for the break room.
“It’s important to understand that purposeful play is not buying a table tennis table, sticking it in your lunch room and then sitting back and waiting for your organisation and people to be transformed,” Melissa says. “Instead, there are so many different ways of unlocking purposeful play in workplaces and the most important thing is to understand who you’re working with both as an organisation and individually.
“A great way of unlocking purposeful play is to start with play histories as a way of rediscovering the unique ways we played as a child, what that play meant, how we were transformed and then working out how we can apply those learnings to us today. It sounds simple, but the results of rediscovering why and how we play as adults can be extraordinary.”
Melissa will be speaking at the event, How Play with Purpose Can Create a Revolution in Your Organisation, as part of Vivid Sydney’s Vivid Ideas program. To see more inspiring events from the Light, Music and Ideas (27 May-18 June) and purchase tickets, visit Vivid Sydney.