Over the summer A LOT of kids moved into our neighborhood. Since our windows look out on the green space that they have taken over as their playground, I’m relearning a lot about playground dynamics.
There are the bossy–notably a girl of about 11 or 12 who seems to believe that it is her destiny to ride rough-shod over everyone else—and the bossed. That one is a 5 or 6 year old who dissolves into tears and caterwauling about three times a day.
Then there is the boy who discovered that the girls aren’t going to pay one bit of attention to the orders he gives. I happened to be looking out the window the first time that little interplay happened. From the stunned look on his face I think he experienced what they call in business a paradigm shift.
Many activities require running and these kids have neither a slow gear nor an off-switch. They have no volume control either and those same activities also require screaming. At the end of the day bikes, scooters, pink helmets, and pieces of clothing litter the ground and chalked hopscotch courts and large colorful flowers cover the sidewalks.
Coming home from work one day, I couldn’t resist one of the hopscotch courts. As I hopped my way through it, nursing bag in hand, this very young voice behind me said, “Cool.”
I agree and considering a few books I’ve read lately, a lot of other people are also deciding that play is cool. Either there is a new underground thread running through parts of the business community, or that thread has been there all the time and I’m just discovering it. The new message is: play at work.
Of course that message is not coming from the people who inhabit those little isolated boxes at the top of organizational charts. It’s coming from the cube farms, the water coolers, and the office intranets.
The theory behind it runs like this: business as it has been conducted for the past century no longer works. Organizations are so mired in mission statements, organizational charts, office buildings, time management, selective information distribution, and power they have become forts where the main objective is to defend the fort, not explore the frontier, or even engage the customers.
Companies have lost sight of the fact that ordinary workers, the people on the line, the people in the cube farms are smart cookies, know far more about the nuts-and-bolts of the business than anyone else, and are busy getting on—as much as they are allowed to get on—with the business of the business.
People who are now defining success as getting meaningful work done are building their work environment on four things: open, direct access; respect; conversation; and play.
The play here is not about putting goldfish in the water cooler or chalking hopscotch courts in the hallway. Nor are we talking about sneaking off from work early to get in a few holes of golf.
This is about playing with ideas. Building work groups based on who plays well with others rather than who is where in the organizational chart. Asking “Who is going to help us make this work?” instead of thinking of reasons that it will never work. Getting the work done when the work is done rather than working to artificial deadlines. It’s about people beginning to sound like themselves again.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
Quote for the week:
The Cluetrain 12-step program for Internet Business Success
2. Have a sense of humor
3. Find your voice and use it
4. Tell the truth
5. Don’t panic
6. Enjoy yourself
7. Be brave
8. Be curious
9. Play more
10. Dream always
11. Listen up
12. Rap on
~Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger. The Cluetrain Manifesto. Basic Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-465-01856-9.