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Blurring The Line Between Work And Play

Ben Garfinkel – 3 Comments

As featured at ihaveanidea.org & if.psfk.com/if

The problem with work is in the name. Work. From the moment the alarm goes off in the morning and we shake off the last of our slumber, we shift into autopilot as we prepare for our day at the office. It’s often so routine that many give very little thought to the actual process. For some, every moment is a painful necessity, while for others it’s energizing and a healthy component of their lives. So what’s the difference?

Play.

Play is as important as work. In fact, imagine waking up in the morning thinking you are not preparing to go off to work, but play. That’s a radical shift in thinking, and one with major implications. If you are in a job for the paycheque and not the passion, then this might not apply. However, the introduction of play, and even more importantly, the permission to play, could turn you into a more productive and happier person.

We’ve all heard the saying ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ and never has this been more true. The demand placed on us in the modern, downsized workplace is a vicious cycle of more work, and more pressure to get that work done so you can do even more work. Anything not directly related to getting tasks done is thus considered wasteful.

Enter the annual corporate river rafting trip: The CEO has his assistant organize an all-inclusive day out on the company in an attempt to relieve stress, have fun and make people forget how much work they are doing. All too often it represents a contrived and not particularly effective attempt to boost morale, strengthen teams and make amends for all the crap thrown at employees the rest of the year. The feelings of camaraderie and goodwill last about as long as it takes for your clothes, and liver, to dry out. And once they do, all that remains is a bitter reminder that nothing’s really changed.

This is entirely the wrong approach.

It is not enough, especially in creative fields, to stick to the annual team building activities. Sure, it’s a great reason for a day off work, and anything that promises you could be fishing a senior staff member out of class five rapids is something worth doing. However, it is far more immediate and effective to incorporate such team building into the daily routine and schedule. In fact, play relieves stress and clears the mind, allowing us to think freely and tackle problems with a fresh perspective. Rick Valicenti of 3ST recently told a Graphic Design Council audience that fifty percent of his studio time is spent at play. Kevin Carroll, former Nike Katalyst, now travels to conferences and corporations preaching on “the spririt and lessons of play to enliven and enrich work lives, enhance innovation and improve team dynamics and interpersonal communication.”

So how do you integrate play into the work environment?

Say, instead of preparing estimates, tackling a brand strategy or some other challenging task, you’re figuring out how to build an eight-foot Snoopy out of canned food? No matter how creative the work environment is already, it’s critical to recognize that our brains must have diversions in order to perform at optimum levels. Many a creative block has been freed by going to a movie or engaging in an entirely different activity or train of thought. It should be that easy. However, at the corporate level there must be a recognition that engaging in play often leads to an immersion in activities that motivate, energize and inspire us to greater work achievements.

Are play and inspiration the same thing? Yes, and no. Play as a diversion from work can free our minds to solve problems better and more efficiently than directly focusing on them. However, depending on the problem, the search for inspiration may be as much fun as it is work. For example, at Industrial Brand, we recognize that inspiration can come from anywhere; music, art, news & pop culture, etc. We wanted to bring these experiences together to expose each other to new ideas, have some fun and team build for the good of the agency, and ultimately our clients. Because of this, we have become determined and dedicated to maintaining a close eye and open ear to what’s going on around us. In addition, our more interesting observations and experiences make their way into our website and social media channels and all of this has created a permissive environment for play, positively impacting the corporate and creative culture of the agency.

Taking this further, the team at Industrial Brand have also begun to encourage play by holding a monthly Inspiration Day, where we step out of our daily workflow for the afternoon and partake in an activity that builds both personal and communal spirit as well as challenging our creative processes to grow. These excursions began with the acquisition of a DVD library and screenings in a client’s deluxe presentation theatre. We also went to Bruce Mau’s Massive Change at the Vancouver Art Gallery and then shared our thoughts over drinks. Recently we developed a game in which we all dispersed to different areas of the city to shoot digital photos of images that represented such ideas as CLARITY, BLUE and CHAOS. Arriving back at the office, we had to present another participant’s work as if it were our own, offering both a defense and a rationale for each of the images.

Inspired to do even more? Team building and play as inspirational forces don’t always have to benefit the company first. When we formed Industrial Brand Creative we felt that ethical operations should also include contributions to our community. We’ve lent our design services to good causes in the past, and still do, but three years ago we were asked to participate in a unique new event to Vancouver called Canstruction©.

That first year, we didn’t have a good idea of what we were getting into. From concept to the final build, we had to step out of our daily skill set to design and execute an eight-foot high sculpture out of non-perishable food. Once we had a concept in mind we scoured the shelves at local supermarkets for just the right size, shape and colour cans, boxes and bags of food to see how we could make it work. It took us about four weeks of meetings, countless shopping trips, computer CAD diagrams and test building to get ready for the competition.

The contribution, aside from raising over $55,000 in food and cash for the food bank over the last four years, is a massive dose of play into our corporate culture. The awards we’ve won for our sculptures, including the top prizes in 2005 and 2006, further fuel our creative spirit. Yes, the demand on our time and resources sometimes makes it difficult to get involved in these kinds of activities. However, we’ve discovered it is yet another great way to inject passion, fun and shared experiences into our agency while exercising our talents for a good cause. Really, what’s more inspiring than that? Plus, how many people get to claim building a giant Snoopy and Woodstock out of cans as part of their job description?

Go ahead, blur the line between work and play. What it all comes down to is recognizing that having fun and playing at work leads to sources of motivation and inspiration which are crucial components to any company, especially one that has creativity as its focus. Sure, sending the team into churning class five rapids with nothing but a paddle and a pep talk from the president might work temporarily, but we have to continually balance those times when we lose ourselves to the realities of budgets, deadlines and client demands. It’s the only way to maintain our passions, mental health and create a sustainable work environment. So no matter what your job, wouldn’t you rather jump out of bed in the morning excited not about getting to work, but to play?

If you or your agency would like more information about participating in CanstructionVancouver, please visit CanstructionVancouver. In other cities, visit Canstruction.

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