Serious play

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Play more at work and create outstanding results

Tim Brown, CEO of legendary design consultancy IDEO, suggests leaders and workers must understand the power of letting go of control at work. People eager to create results and making a difference will then discover the power of free thinking occuring when letting go of control.

The video shows a speech Tim Brown gave at the TED conference in Monterey in February 2008. It is a nice demonstration of serious playfulness, engaging with the audience and enabling people to connect to his message.

Brown heads a design company. Logically he is used to be working with physical objects. Nevertheless, he also works with what he calls ‘designing experiences’. That is, enabling design to improve people’s everyday lives and user experiences. Therefore he is very concerned about how people interact with their surroundings and other people. His job as a designer is to build a bridge linking physical context and people.

In his speech he provides us with some clues of what we can do at work in order to improve our ability to view, think and work less locked.

Brown points out a couple of challenges in many organisations that should make us reflect upon how we work:

  • We fear the judgement of our peers: We are embarrassed to showing our ideas to those around us. This fear causes us being conservative about sharing our ideas. Children do not have that fear, Brown claims. They are eager to show whatever they make to their surroundings. Kids who feel secure are the ones who feel most free to play.
  • We self edit our selves too early: Instead we ought to let go, explore lots of things, go for quantity. We all constantly come up with new ideas or new angles on how to solve a problem. Still, there is a strong tendency as grown ups to stop, shake off that new idea, and return to routine. Why? Perhaps in order to get things done, even if it’s a suboptimal manner of solving a problem. Brown thinks this is wrong thinking. Challenge yourself more often!

How can we create work arenas where people can prosper?

  1. Playfulness is important: It helps people do their work better and feel better when they work. Go ahead, play around yourself and let go of control.
  2. Think as a child: a kid would rather explore a new thing when it comes across something unfamiliar. Instead of rushing into categorising and concluding when working with things alien to us, explore and hesitate to draw conclusions.
  3. Create trust at work: Never underestimate the power of creating and sustaining an ambience of trust at work. Without it energy disappears. Why? Because creative work is risk taking. Experiencing that people dissmiss your input or ideas can be difficult. Feeling uncomfortable is logical when sharing your ideas. However, creating a work environment where trust is the default ambience, ideas will prosper and value will add to the bottom line.
  4. Look for solutions in contexts completely different from your own daily work setting: Ask someone to pose silly questions about your assignment or project. Perhaps the local chef in the canteen can provide you with questions more relevant to the outcome your searching than more experienced team members.

In case you’d like to read more about how to develop your people and organisation, please feel free to check out my blog post outstanding leaders appraise their staff.

Last thing: Brown’s speech has also been summarised by Yes!AndSpace on the Flickr photo sharing site:

[click for a bigger version in order to read the text in the drawing]

Serious play

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