The Play Ethic – Is the Future of Work Playful? By Richard Claydon

Posted by on Feb 4, 2018 in Blog, Critic's Area | 1 comment

The Play Ethic – Is the Future of Work Playful? By Richard Claydon
Tonight marks 15 years since I last spoke with my mum & tomorrow night marks 52 weeks since I last spoke with my dad. It is with their thoughts that I woke up around 4 am this morning and decided to check messages in response to my current Instagram posts on ‘play’ – something they both encouraged through performance, photography, and outdoor games as forms of public practices. Since a group of street kids (also my friends) randomly organized my birthday in an outdoor garage in India on December 8, 2017, I have particularly found ‘street play’ with outdoor children not only inclusive of performance and photography but also an activist tool to practice social equality, breaking boundaries between different classes. It is a form of ‘street pedagogy’ that we can apply in work. In fact, play must be part of our work space. Coincidentally, I stumbled upon an article “Is the Future of Work Playful?” written by Dr Richard Claydon on LinkedIn. He appropriately points out “The Play Ethic,” which I strongly recommend reading and considering.As I commemorate my parents’ crossing over today, I invite you in the implementation of my new orphan wisdom – play.

Enjoy reading:

Is the Future of Work Playful?

Dr. Richard Claydon

By Dr. Richard Claydon

My not-quite-three-year-old daughter was hesitating at the edge of the climbing frame. Just out of her reach was a rope ladder. She was puzzling how to reach it and climb down.

Then he walked up to her. He told her, “you’re too small for this. And you’re a girl. I’m a boy. I’m five-and-a-half. I can do this.”

My daughter backed off and watched him try to climb down. He tried many ways. But he couldn’t do it. Eventually, frustrated, he decided to use the slide.

As he moved away, my daughter, who’d been watching intently all along, moved to the side of the rope ladder and pulled it towards her. She stepped across and nonchalantly climbed down.

Unconstrained by the rules of the playground and really wanting to play with the rope ladder, she learned from his failures and worked out a solution. When she got to the bottom she was beaming. For a few seconds, anyway, before wanting to climb back up again and play some more.

How many times do we hear this? You can’t do it. You’re a girl and it’s man’s work. You’re not experienced enough.

And how many times do we listen to this nagging voice of authority? Are we so constrained by the “rules” of the playground that we’ve forgotten how to play? Have we lost the ability to improvise on the fly? And is this impacting how we do future work?

The Play Ethic

After his short-lived career as one-half of British pop duo Hue & Cry, Pat Kane wrote a book, The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living. It’s perhaps even more relevant today than when it was written in 2004. Ostensibly, it is an argument that the Protestant Work Ethic, a value which supposedly underpinned the industrialisation of Northern Europe and the USA, has reached its use-by date and should be replaced by a value-system more aligned to contemporary work and living.

He writes:

don’t take ‘play’ to mean anything idle, wasteful or frivolous. The trivialisation of play was the work ethic’s most lasting, and most regrettable achievement. This is ‘play’ as the great philosophers understood it: the experience of being an active, creative and fully autonomous person.

The play ethic is about having the confidence to be spontaneous, creative and empathetic across every area of your life – in relationships, in the community, in your cultural life, as well as paid employment. It’s about placing yourself, your passions and enthusiasms at the centre of your world.

By clearing space for activities that are pleasurable, voluntary and imaginative – that is, for play – you’ll have better memory, sharper reasoning and more optimism about the future. As Brian Sutton-Smith, the dean of Play Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says, ‘The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression. To play is to act out and be wilful, exultant and committed, as if one is assured of one’s prospects.’

So to call yourself a ‘player’, rather than a ‘worker’, is to immediately widen your conception of who you are and what you might be capable of doing. It is to dedicate yourself to realising your full human potential; to be active, not passive.

Its relevance to today’s work of work is immediately apparent. We need creativity, innovation, critical thought, passion, purpose, community and connection. They underpin everything that the #FutureOfWork is about.

The Value of Childlike Play

How do we create work environments that enable this kind of activity? The key is becoming childlike – full of the wonder that the wide-eyed toddler has as she explores the world. Not childish – that is temper tantrums and selfishness – an acute difference. We confuse them and become too serious, forgetting the value of play in our attempts to become a responsible adult doing important things in formal places.

Why do we confuse them? Because as we mature, play becomes games. And games have rules you can’t break if you want to participate. If you break the rules, you don’t belong. You get excluded.

Why do we let this happen – the giggles of the young child making a mistake in role-playing replaced by the tears of a child who is told he can’t join in because he doesn’t understand the rules.

We grow up! As Peter Pan told us, you don’t want to do that.

If you can hold onto your sense of playfulness as an adult – even build on it – then all kind of wonderful things might happen. Bernie DeKoven, the American game designer and fun theorist, writes:

It is an art, playing playfully with others. And the older we get, and the further removed we get from our own sense of playfulness, the more of an art it becomes. So when we manage to play playfully with others, we create something of exceptional beauty. The word here is exceptional.

To be able to play with others the way we did, from time to time, when we were children to join each other in the thick of it, in the mud of it, and make something fun and new between us there is so much more now that we are grown that we need to let go of, and so much deeper of a truth we can Þnd or create together.

Why do we let formalised rules and serious people constrain and confine us when we are adults? In a world craving for innovative and creative thinking, isn’t it time to break some rules again? To find out if The Play Ethic is the future of work?


Articles to Read

Seven Simple Rules

1: No name cards and no business cards – connect face-to-face and through LinkedIn

2: No hierarchy – jackets and ties off at the door as all are equal here

3: No PowerPoint bore-fests – nobody will struggle to stay awake

4: No presenter will speak for more than 15 minutes without a collaborative exercise

5: Questions, constructive critique and dialogue are welcome throughout

6: You will socially interact regularly – we are social animals & interaction inspires us

7: No selling – community building and idea exchanges only

One Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Dr Samita Nandy (PhD).

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