‘Playfulness’ is a word that isn’t often associated with business. Yet when we were young, we were positively bursting with the stuff; it’s how we discovered the world and learnt new things. It’s how we built relationships with others, and how we managed to create incredible ideas.
So, why are we so afraid to be playful and creative as adults at work?
It is easy to get sucked into the ‘don’t be out there’ culture, for fear of embarrassing ourselves in front of colleagues. When we run leadership sessions for senior executives, even I find myself dumbing down the day’s activities, in case I seem like an over-enthusiastic Post-it note addict, who can’t help but patronise ‘serious’ people with ‘serious jobs’.
Playfulness and bravery are both common traits of emerging thriving businesses with high performing cultures. The truth is, there is always room for fun in everything we do – even at work. Just imagine: enjoying it so much, that you not only thrive, but also look forward to walking in the door each Monday. Author Daniel Pink argues that financial motivation is a short-term folly, in his book, Drive, so to achieve a sense of meaningfulness at work, money is not and should not be the only motivator.
Creativity needs to be nurtured
The theory of neuroplasticity – the notion that the brain can reorganise itself by forming new neural connections to adapt as it needs to – suggests that provided we are given a supporting environment and permission to think creatively, we all have the capability to innovate at work. Despite popular belief, creativity is a choice not a talent; you are born with. You don’t have to look far to find examples of businesses that have adopted this approach with their people:
- Airbnb, named Business of the Year in 2014 by Inc magazine, continue to use their humble start-up approach by asking their customers for feedback on how they should evolve their business and encouraging their people to be creative. Their culture is one of fun, laid back creativity but centred with clear goals. Their teams then have the freedom to champion their own ideas and choose how they contribute to the business.
- Lucozade Ribena Suntory adopt the ‘Yatte Minahare – Go For it!’ spirit of their new owners to break away from the restrictive GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) process-driven thinking of the past, and move towards a culture that challenges the business with new ideas and entrepreneurial doing.
Change & innovation go hand-in-hand
Encouraging ideas and a culture of innovation in the workplace is proven to be one of the best drivers of engaging with employees because it gives them a chance to have a voice and a purpose at work. The government-commissioned ‘Engaged For Success’ report, written by David McLeod, singled out ‘Employee Voice’ as one of the four drivers of engagement, allowing high levels of employee involvement, participation and consultation – with ideas constantly flowing up, down and across the business.
In addition 59% of engaged employees say their job brings out their most creative ideas, versus 3% of disengaged employees. It’s a virtuous circle (Gallup).
How can you nurture a culture that embraces innovative thinking and change?
1. Write an inspiring core purpose and vision – one that captures imaginations. It doesn’t matter if your vision seems unachievable right now. Keep checking in that this is keeping you on your pathway. Just think, if Walt Disney’s vision was merely ‘to create the best cartoons’ rather than ‘to make people happy’, the world of Disney would be a very different place.
2. Develop a unique set of values that reflect your organisation’s attitude and personality. Then, involve people to develop on and put the values into action – not just stuck on the wall. Your values must set expectations and evoke positive reactions in people’s behaviour. For example, Zappos fashion’s core value, ‘to create fun and a little weirdness’, prompts more of an innovative attitude from their workforce than if they were to simply tell employees to ‘have fun’.
3. Make playfulness part of your everyday language. If you are serious about producing new ideas, build triggers in your business that facilitate this culture change – telling people your intention will not be enough. Instead of running ‘brainstorm sessions’, set a clear brief and challenge your team to think about new ideas away from the meeting room table.
4. Build a nurturing environment full of role models that gives your teams permission and support for behaviours that encourage playfulness. Clever people can always pick apart an idea or a new way of working but it is the smart companies that encourage these people to build on ideas and lead the way for others.
5. Involve people in change. Individuals don’t like to ‘be’ changed. Setting challenges for people at all levels within a business, and allowing them to be involved in problem-solving processes will encourage a smoother transition period.
6. Don’t be afraid to fail – encourage bravery. Have goals that are realistic to achieve, but take time to celebrate the learnings from things that haven’t worked.
7. Remember, we are all humans – designed in the same way. Develop fun activities that capture people’s imagination. Being playful and problem-solving is not something that should be reserved exclusively for the non-work parts of our lives.
By welcoming different ways of doing things in the workplace, you might just hit upon an engaged workforce and a vibrant, dynamic, forward-thinking business that gets the results you deserve.
Now, doesn’t that sound like fun?