A Solid Case for Why Grown-Ups Should Play


Play is the root of creativity.


With an ever-increasing pressure to be constantly switched on and connected to work wherever we (eternal thanks, smart phones!), it’s little wonder adults are turning to nostalgic pastimes to de-stress.

With a sharp spike in the sales of adult colouring books, it’s clear there’s a trend towards reclaiming the concept of child’s play and, according to researchers, this can only be a positive thing.

Past childhood, there’s a tendency to shelve pursuits that are without purpose in the interests of saving time for everything we ‘have’ to do – and this, argue many, is the reason we’re feeling stressed out.

“The only kind [of play] we honour is competitive play,” Bowen F. White, an MD and part-time clown points out. As adults, we are expected to lose our sense of playfulness and replace it with responsibility.

Play is at the root of creativity, imaginative thinking, mental flexibility and problem-solving as well as, importantly in a business context, fundamental in creating a more relaxed, inviting atmosphere where people don’t feel intimidated to contribute their ideas.

Drawing on the words of Ideo’s Tim Brown, CEO of the Lego company Jørgen Vig Knudstorp explains that “play creates a risk-free environment that encourages people to experiment, as there is no such thing as failure. It is much more conducive to problem solving than the traditional ‘I am right and you are wrong and there is only one way of doing things.’”

The CEO is so convinced of the “transformative power” of adult play, he’s built his own consulting business called Serious Play, which utilises Lego sets as part of group exercises that aim to build the confidence of participants.

As in animals, the founder of the National Institute for Play, Stuart Brown believes that play also has as a disarming effect on behaviour. Using the example of an approaching polar bear altering his aggressive stance when a wolf communicates playfulness with its body language, we too can foster an environment at work that allows the feeling of approachability and collaboration, just by giving space to playful creativity.

As for the sceptics who believe that play is a self-indulgent pursuit, which has no impact on the wider potential for possibility, consider that the ‘purposelessness’ of play is exactly what gives the concept its power. With play, there’s no specific outcome, apart from that of enjoyment. That release of pressure is exactly what begins to restore mind and body and allow us to think in different, more open ways. Take your last relaxing holiday as an example: the promise of long stretches of time where you are under no obligation to achieve anything at all. It’s blissful, seemingly endless and totally restorative. Play can have the same benefits and when channelled, it has the power to lead to more open doors.

“[The widespread introduction of play in the workplace] would hopefully mean companies become much better at solving problems,” Hanne Rasmussen, the head of the Lego Foundation, which focus on the importance of play in child development, explains. “If children learn that playing and interacting with others creates real value, then it has the potential to increase compassion at work. It’s difficult to have meaningful interactions and then not care about other aspects than just hard, measurable, tangible aspects.”

Which explains why the purposeless, intangible joy that erupts from play is so fundamental.

Start small: take some time to daydream on the train on the way to work, build something small with blocks or Lego while you wit for your pasta to boil or take over your child’s dollhouse for the afternoon – you never know where it might lead you.