That’s Why They Call It a “Play!” He Played One on TV:

That’s Why They Call It a “Play!”

He Played One on TV:

My fear: people look at me and say, “Great! He’s not a consultant, but he played one on TV!”  That’s when I first began my career as an organizational development and behavioral specialist. I was terrified someone might discover my past life as an actor, director, and acting coach and lose faith in me as a consultant. Fortunately, as I became more confident, I realized that my background in exploring the human condition and my subsequent education and development as a behaviorist, was unparalleled in understanding individuals in organizations. Add my continued personal and professional development and working on my inner game of self-discovery, the greater my ability to understand how others think and behave. In other words, the more I understood myself the more I understood and was able to develop and coach others. As a matter of fact, I was able to see what others missed in reading individual intention and hidden agendas. My background also helped me see how employee behavior either championed or undermined any organizational initiative.

It doesn’t matter what initiative, from leadership and management development to strategic planning and implementation—or any (flavor-of-the-month) quality initiative. The success of these undertakings rests solely on the commitment and full engagement of the entire organization’s population—from C-Level players to yesterday’s hire. Any implementation requires a behavioral shift—doing something different today than we did yesterday. John Kotter, global organizational change expert and Harvard Business School professor says that changing the behavior of people becomes one the most important business challenges facing us today. "The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people." He goes on to say, "Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people's feelings.” Once again, as we develop others personally and professionally, we consistently see a significant boost in quality initiative implementation. Self-discovery promotes an increase in personal and organizational responsibility and leads to full engagement.

The Difference:

But what kind of feelings? How effective are you when you’re frustrated, angry, or overly serious? I worked with many actors, stage managers, producers, designers, and other theatrical types who took themselves far too seriously. The product always suffered—always! Every time I found any of my cast and crew getting too serious, I would say, “Why do you think they call it a PLAY?” Even when the topic covered some of the most depressing political and social maladies of our time—including AIDS, genocide, political prisoners, death, or psychological ruin—we missed the mark without play. Once we incorporated play into our “work”, creativity, discovery, and fun returned to the equation. Only when we brought that sense of discovery and play to the production were we able to bring the words to life in ways that wowed our audiences.

The same holds true for the world of business and industry—at all positions and professions—even those who deal with life and death. Would you rather have an uptight neurosurgeon, customer service representative, or emergency medical technician serve you in the time of crisis or one who brought a sense of discovery, creativity, and fresh eyes to your specific emergency?

We’re at our best when at play. Friedrich Schiller, German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright, said, “We are fully human when we are at play. Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.” Jane McGonigal famous [digital] game designer states, “If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, and obesity…we need to aspire to play games.”  Her reasoning: in real life we become overwhelmed, anxious, distressed, depressed, frustrated, and cynical with obstacles and failure. Research shows that as we become immersed in playing, these negative feelings evaporate. McGonigal adds that inherent in the playing process we develop an urgent optimism (extreme self-motivation), social fabric (we like those we play with), blissful productivity (we’re engaged and accomplishing something), epic meaning (fulfilling a sense of purpose). We use play as a vehicle, a tool to help bring out our genius. A sense of play means tapping into our essence; an essence and insight unique to us alone. It doesn’t matter if we’re on stage, at work, fighting fires, saving lives, designing buildings, parenting, teaching, or engaged in personal relationships. As we bring a sense of play and discovery to every event—indeed to every moment—we discover our personal genius. Incorporate a sense of play—this optimism, self-motivation, social connections, full engagement, and sense of purpose—into our work environment, we not only improve the quality of our service and product we also improve the quality of our lives and the lives of those we serve. 

Grant Stewart