Does play make you cringe?

Does play make you cringe?  

As a child, my life was full of play – endless hours of unstructured fun that seemed to take place through nature, creation, adventure and imagination.


As an adult, the play in my life diminished. I would cringe when people mentioned play. I became intimidated by really playful people.  This is fascinating because I worked with some of the most playful people in the world…adventure facilitators who turned everything into play. When I tried to emulate them, because, well, I should love play, I felt incongruent and fake.


That all changed for me when I happened upon the work of Stuart Brown, M.D.  Dr. Brown delves into how play actually helps us to acquire skills and handle change. He describes how play opens the imagination and fosters creative thinking.


As I explored what Dr. Brown refers to as Play Personalities, I began to realize that my problem was not that I was shut down to play or didn’t know how to play, it was simply that my play personality was different than adults I was trying to emulate. In hindsight I realize that they didn’t recognize my play style either!  This new discovery left me feeling two things: relief and the desire to infuse more of my authentic play personality into my life!


Brown identifies 8 unique play styles but states that we are usually a combination of one or more styles.




So how do we integrate play into our work?


Dr. Brown warns us to avoid “play differential.”  In other words, don’t set aside time for play apart from what you do for most of your day or consider play a separate activity. Instead, infuse your play style into everything you do. Brown says, “If the purpose of play is more important than the act of doing, it probably isn’t play”.


If you are an explorer, volunteer to do the research component of a project. If you are a competitor, set a goal for yourself in terms of how many of those pesky files you’ll deal with today. Maybe even challenge another teammate (who is also a competitor) to participate as well. Storytellers can start a blog or write a narrative to go with a new project. If you are the director, be sure to volunteer to take the lead on developing a strategy to get that new implementation off the ground and help everyone else define their roles as well.


Regardless of your play personality, when you are designing trainings or meetings or even teambuilding events, include opportunities for all the play styles. Not only will you have more engagement, you’ll also have participants who are more focused, innovative, connected and creative.


To help you identify your authentic play personality, follow this link to a short, simple activity that will help you to clarify your play personality in fewer than 7 minutes.



To read Dr. Brown’s book, click here.