Is Creative Culture Linked to Play?

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Babis Mainemelis, a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, has been researching the connection between office playtime and creativity. In his view, play is not a specific set of activities, but rather a mindset of flexibility, curiosity, and exploration. Furthermore, Prof. Mainemelis identifies two different types of play: play as engagement and play as diversion.

Diversion play means playing while at work, but not with work. Examples might include office ping-pong matches or lunchtime soccer games. This type of play allows workers to take a mental break, which helps foster the incubation of new ideas. It also breaks down hierarchical barriers by throwing together colleagues from different departments and different rungs on the corporate ladder.

Engagement play means playing with the work itself. He describes it as a true transformation of the work. It boosts the creative process and allows employees to reframe activities, explore different ideas, and experiment with variables or processes that typically go unnoticed. For example, he cites professional animators who, in searching for new ideas, fantasize about things like “What if zebras were green?” and “What if sharks flew through space?” This is, incidentally, strikingly similar to one of the Lateral Thinking techniques.

Prof. Mainemelis goes on to discuss ways in which managers can foment play, as well as the risks of not letting workers play.

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