When we decide to become more playful with the people and opportunities in front of us, we uncover a workplace culture that leads to a variety of synergistic benefits.

Many people believe that play is the opposite of work, but it is not. The oppositive of work is sloth, boredom, and disengagement. Play is the “fun uncle” of work. It is work done of our own free will for its own pleasure.

Sometimes, life and business can be counter-intuitive. When you try harder, you take your work more seriously, you optimize people, processes, and systems, and you leverage your time, money, and resources, you end up getting to a point of diminishing returns.

Alan Watts called this the Backwards Law, and it proposes that the more we pursue something, the more we achieve the opposite of what we truly want and the more disappointed feel. The more disappointed we feel, the less we achieve, and we end up spiraling downwards in a self-perpetuating cycle into languishing, burnout, and depression.

However, the opposite is also true. If we stop working on a problem, we often find the solution quicker. We have all had that moment of inspiration when we took a break to shower or get some rest.

Here are five benefits of rediscovering the power of play in the workplace:

  1. Connections – When you play on the same team with people, you create strong affinity bonds that facilitate teamwork. When you set up work and competition between your team, you breed jealousy, distrust, and status games. Play breaks down the silos that work stress creates.

  2. Culture – The same is also true on a more macro level. Life and business are a balance between chaos and order. If you have a culture of playfulness, your team can move between them without fear. But, if you have a culture of hard work, stress and tension build until you only get work that is orderly and safe. Permitting your employees to play will dramatically increase your culture and results because it allows your employees to dance in and out of chaos without fear but with self-control and self-determination.

  3. Creativity – Play, like creativity, cannot be forced. Just as you can force yourself to fall asleep or fall in love. You can’t force the universe to bend to your business plans. At some point, you are going to need to be creative. It is much easier to be playful and be prepared to improvise as you go along.

  4. Conditioning – If you play in uncertainty regularly, your body, mind, and spirit condition themselves to succeed in this environment. Businesses and people that eventually fail tend to get slow, erratic, and brittle over time because they let stress build up in the system. Too much work stress causes us to fight, flight, or freeze, but playful approaches to challenges lead to fun, flow, and fulfillment. Proper conditioning allows for time to play, pause, ponder, practice, AND perform.

  5. Confidence – Confidence is at the root of the Backwards Law. You gain more confidence from overcoming failure than you do from success. Success often either breeds ego and hubris when it is hard-fought, or it breeds imposter syndrome and doubt when it is too easy. Well-formed games, on the other hand, are all about finding the balance between winning and losing that keeps us in the zone. Play creates feelings of joy, wonder, and self-actualization that create a desire to keep pushing and keep playing.

So, what exactly is play and how can you get more playful at work?

Play is simply engaging in an activity that is freely chosen, challenging, requires your full focus on the present moment, and generates feelings of joy, wonder, and self-actualization. It creates a continuation desire and has rewards in and of itself.

Those activities can be a wide variety of things, and that’s what makes play so interesting. You get to choose. What would make you come alive? How did you love to play as a child? How can you start small and take a quick recess in the middle of the day or week? Play evolves the players by opening the mind and energizing the body. Can you find someone to come out and play with you? How can you stop working so hard on solutions and start playing with ideas and possibilities at work?

You already know how to play. You were born to learn through and with play. It is time to make it a priority and rediscover the power of play for your life and business.

How successful do you think you and your organization would be if more people in your organization chose their activities based on the above definition of play? Share your thoughts in the comments.

If you think it would be better, start today. If you think it would be worse, it might be time to think about new work or new co-workers. When you play for a living, you create the conditions for you to succeed more easily, and you get to have a lot more fun along the way!

Go play.