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Why Play Pays

Putting the Fun Back into Work Can Boost Job Creativity


This is serious business! How many of us have heard those words rain down upon us as a co-worker or manager has attempted to impress upon us the gravity of a particular situation. We need a sense of urgency, a grip on reality, a firm understanding of the balance sheet or a more professional demeanor! Very early on at my first lemonade stand I managed this way and let me tell you, by the time I sold SpeakerCraft for $58 million and teamed up with Nortek, my style was way different; if it feels good, is fun, and is a solid plan, lets play. All in.

I tend to look at this a bit differently. When things are tough, when the pressure is on, when I am being pulled in three different directions at once, I choose to play. How about a nice water balloon fight, a dress-up day for all of staff, lunch Fridays, holiday tree and candle decorating, or a huge game of tag? Sometimes we need to get serious and go jump out of a plane or snowboard down virgin powder in the backcountry. Instead of hunkering down and working harder (sometimes we forget that truth and creativity come from the trenches, a good executive thinks 60 percent of the time…alone) lets take a moment to share the latest hilarious anecdote or a passage from a recent book.

Kicking the Red Ball
If youre not having fun, you are doing something wrong. Life is an incredible adventure filled with beauty, wonder, play, and enjoyment. Have you lost that incredible childlike view of the world that made everything from a blue summer sky, the smell of the playground, to a ladybug on the back of your hand a miraculous experience? If so, an adjustment is in order.

Having just returned from this years CEDIA Management Conference in San Diego, I had the chance to listen to the words of Kevin Carroll. Here is a person whose childhood was marred by alcoholic parents, numerous episodes of being uprooted and moved to different cities, and finally being asked to raise himself at the age of six. His challenges led him to a red rubber balla toy that he says literally saved his life. This ball was something he could count on to bring him joy regardless of the circumstance. Simply standing in an open field, kicking the ball high into the air, and then chasing it down took his mind off the frustrations that surrounded him.

CEDIA Management Conference keynote speaker, Kevin Carroll, attributes his success to having used play to overcome several of his life’s challenges.

This red rubber ball led him to service in the military where he traveled the world and learned five languages. He later received a degree in sports medicine, after which he worked as a trainer in the NBA and then for the Serbian Olympic team. His experience brought him to Nike where his business card literally stated his title as Katalyst (misspelling intended) as he was truly an agent of change who helped numerous departments turn creative ideas into reality. And at the core of all this success was the concept of play.

Free Your Mind
Freeing up your thinking through a playful, creative mindset produces fertile ground for ideas that would rarely surface in a boardroom, which is often no more than a bored room. Daily activities tend to hypnotize us like poorly written TV shows: mind numbing and pointless. Soon our brain is focused on the mundane, the ordinary and the commonplace. What we need is a regular shock to the system that makes us laugh, reenergizes our attitude, and puts our whole life back in perspective.

All I do is work. Its my life. I am not really all that good at any particular aspect so I just get aggressive and give it my all in a variety of areas. I try to play and have fun while influencing others. This leads to creativity and opens up many new avenues for growth. By approaching work as play, I find that my team and I are more engaged and less afraid to fail. When we eliminate fear and allow free thought, true innovation and inspiration occur. Hell, even the company intercom is a toy. Make the troops laugh.

Humanity grows, evolves, and succeedsnot because we have sold out, become super responsible or overly maturebut rather through ambition, play, love, and fun.

Jeremy Burkhardt is president of SpeakerCraft, in Riverside, California.