Sunday, January 9, 2011

Play thang

Play'as are you playing enough? It's good for you. Like sleep, sex, food. You should do it. You're wired for it. And need it as an adult. It's not just for kids. Here's a rather unplayful excerpt on play. Part of my research while at UPenn.

Play is a fun dance into sometimes uncertain terrain. It’s an opportunity for us to practice towards some version of perfection (Burghardt, 2005). The opportunity to be wrong doesn’t come easy in our society. We are a results oriented, productive batch that favors being right instead of wrong (Mueller & Dweck, 1998), hard work instead of play (Brown, 2009). However, we know from studies on positive organizations that cultivating a culture where making mistakes is acceptable has proven to positively impact an organization’s productivity (Caza, Edmonson, Lee, & Thomke, 2003). It is our culture’s fear of being wrong or unpolished that currently hampers our economic leadership, innovation, education, and personal growth (Bronson & Merryman, 2010). That's right. Read that last sentence again, carefully.

What is play? One woman's play is another's ... I don't know. Here are some guiding principles I like: Burghardt's 5 Criteria of Play below. Lots of people and academics have opinions - but there's no consensus and not enough research on what it means to play.

Play is done for its own sake
Not serious or of immediate use.

Play is intrinsically motivated (you want it)
Directed towards stimulants that don’t contribute to survival.
Rewarding or reinforcing.

It's Fun (hello!)
Pleasurable and joyful.
Can be solitary or social.
Social play is contagious.
Occurs in a relaxed field free from stress and other behavioral requirements.

Play is not serious
Disappears under stress.
Characteristics that set it apart from serious performance.

It's messy for mastery
May involve self handicapping or role reversal.
May be exaggerated in intensity or duration from normal experience.
May be awkward or unpolished.
Involves mastery.
Differs from stereotyped behavior.

I challenge you get some (play) tonight.


Brown, S. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: Penguin Group.

Burghardt, G. (1998). The evolutionary origins of play revisited. In M. Bekoff & J. Byers (eds.), Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives (pp. 3– 26). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Caza, A., Edmondson, A., Lee, F., & Thomke, S. (2003). New Knowledge creation in organizations. In Cameron, K. S., Dutton, J. E., & Quinn, R.E. (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship (pp.194-206). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children's Motivation and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33-52.

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