Injecting a dose of play into the work day

Matt Brown

Ex-attorney Matt Brown is on a mission to spread the gospel of play.

Twenty years ago, Matt Brown realised he wasn't cut out to be a lawyer. He wanted to create things, and so, he told the Better by Design summit, he began a toy company, Klutz.

Now he's on a mission to spread the gospel of play through consultancy big Boing – something we often forget how to do somewhere between childhood and entering the 'real world'.

Play, he says, is motivating, not an obligation – and introducing more playful aspects into everyday work is the best way to increase individual and collective creative capacity, and come up with new ways to cope in today's dynamic business world.

According to Brown, play by its very nature is active, creative, change-oriented and takes a positive approach to failure. As Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, put it: “The opposite of play is depression, not work.”

A key tenet of play, of course, is curiosity - it enables us to stumble on surprising and often strategic insights. Matt Brown reckons it all starts with curiosity; we then use our imagination before moving on to creating.

"Businesses tend to focus on planning, goals and execution. But that’s not what creates competitive advantage.”

Innovation happens at the other end of the spectrum, he says – exploration and discovery.

"The smartest person in the room is the most strategically creative" – not necessarily the one who knows the most.

So how, exactly, does play fit into the workplace?

Sensory play can help people break through in creative situations, says Brown. Play takes knowledge and turns it into stories, contextualising information in new way. Just get moving; gross motor way, or using your whole body, has proven benefits for  cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing and is linked to creative output.

He argues that more so than skills or knowledge, it's processes that are truly transferable. Exploration in an art or science project can translate to a business or marketing problem.

So, by incorporating the various kinds of play into our lives, we can draw on what we know elsewhere and bring that into other parts of our business.

The nine kinds of play

Pretend play – roleplaying, rehearsing

Game play – games of all types, from sports to strategic games, which help develop thinking

Sensory play – experiences that target the senses such as swings

Gross motor play – play involving whole body movement

Manipulative play – fine motor actions

Construction play – assembling pieces to create patterns, structures and symbolic representations

Music play – music, song and dance

Book play – exploring reading

Art play – building through mediums such as paint or sculpture

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