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Time to play

I was not surprised when I heard a nearby 12-year-old complain, “I’m bored.” But I was taken aback when a recent college graduate told me, “I’m bored with my work.” She was working in her field of choice, about a year into an entry-level job. She said that she didn’t mind doing the routine work, but she wanted to be challenged, to have opportunities to try new things, meet new people, and grow. I connected her comments with the frustrations that multiple Millennials have expressed about their workplaces. And, the frustration extends beyond the Millennials as seen in a 2010 survey that shows only 45% of the workforce is satisfied with their job.

While I understand that every workplace has certain tasks that must be routinely completed, I am thinking about what it means to create a playful workplace. This would be a workplace that moves beyond employee engagement to serious play. What do kids do when they’re the opposite of bored? They’re playing, which results in having fun! In my neighborhood, they go outdoors and ride bikes on the trail, build forts in the woods, get together to eat pizza and play video games, or just hang out eating cookies and drinking soda pop on the back porch. A more defined view of play sees these activities as exploring, creating, relating, generating, and reflecting. When these activities are happening, I never hear, “I’m bored.”

The challenge for our organizations is to embrace those who say, “I’m bored.” It is time to stop saying, “I don’t have time to deal with this – just get on with it.” It is time to expand our thinking – to engage in serious play.  I don’t know that there is a road map for serious play in organizations, but I do know that the beginning is taking time to relate to everyone and set an intention to listen and hear new ideas, create space to imagine new things, and find ways to adventure into new territory. I believe it’s time to stop changing incrementally and be willing to experiment with new ideas and fail and try again.

In the end it’s not about creating the next best piece of technology or the nifty new software app or the perfect organization chart. In the end it’s being willing to get down on the rug and build a new Lego truck that can fly to the moon today, then take it apart and use the Lego blocks to build a whale that walks on land tomorrow. In the end, it’s about the journey and the people with whom we choose to ride the trail. Just maybe, we’ll all be less bored as we discover and create the way to the future together.

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