Gregg Fraley

Nine Ways to Play at Work

9waystoPlayatworkNine Ways to Play At Work (see list below)

The idea that one should invoke a sense of play around challenges is not a new one. Tim Brown of IDEO did that great TED speech on play, and there have been several more TED play-centric talks (Stuart Brown, John Cohn, Sue Palmer) all variations on the theme. Sunni Brown’s talk on Doodling is a personal favorite because she gets specific about how one can begin to be more creatively playful with problem solving. An emerging trend in business is using improvisation games as the basis for team building and problem solving. The work of Del Close, who shaped the serious play of long form Improv and Viola Spolin, who invented Improv as an art form — is really about using play to learn. They both knew that access to your authentic spontaneous thinking power and play are intimately connected.

My own work with KILN and our IdeaKeg service has to do with holistic play-like experiences that have people mashing up trends and concepts to innovate. This stuff works.

All that said, simple more straightforward ideas for play in day-to-day behavior are harder to come by. That’s what this post is all about. I’ll also admit there is a bit of a smart-ass edge to my suggestions below. Because that’s how I play.

Theory is grand, and, changing behavior is difficult. Playing at work is something that we’ve been trained Not to do and it takes active, daily, thoughtful effort to invoke play — especially when you  need it most — with a very serious problem or opportunity. Fear and judgment are the enemies of play and creative effectiveness. That’s why more play is so serious!

Here are Nine Ways to play at work — in which you might do a better job of playing with concepts, challenges, ideas, and solutions. For the sake of brevity I won’t repeat that list, I’ll just say challenge.

  1. Start making unmerciful fun of the challenge. Out loud. Even if it’s sarcastic, bitter, or angry. Make jokes. It’s a start to playing when you exaggerate or ridicule. Exaggerate so much it makes you laugh because it’s absurd. When you start laughing about a serious challenge, you’ve made a good start. Now, this is best done by yourself or with a group who shares your fear. DO NOT do this to an idea that’s just come out of someone’s mouth. That requires a trust level you may not have. If you have a team that gets what you’re doing, do it. If they don’t get it, explain it first and try again. If they still don’t get it, do it on your own. Or, to hell with em, do it anway, with the group, offend!
  2. Explore the challenge in a visual way. Draw a picture of it with stick figures. Do a Mind Map or a wall mural. Use crayons and colored markers. Get out the scissors and glue and make a collage. It’s a step away from fear to invoke other modes of thinking. Making things visual is one way to do this. As Sunni Brown says, Doodle. Scribble. Draw a symbol, create a logo. Yes, a logo for the challenge. That’s playing folks.
  3. Explore the challenge in a physical way. This is almost never done, but find a way to physically explore the challenge. You might literally “walk through” a business process you’re trying to sort out. If it’s a product act out how it’s used, or actually use it. Use the product! Do bad mime if you don’t have it. When in doubt just take a freakin walk. Around the block. Through the park. In the woods. Try to relax and not think so hard about something, be quietly reflective. Walk a Labyrinth (click here for world locator). Here’s a stretch for some of you — create an interpretive dance. It will feel uncomfortable, tough noogies, you’ll laugh, you may get insights, and that’s the point.
  4. Make a sculpture of it with Play Dough or Model Magic. It’s strange how shaping a blob to mean something, even a conceptual thing that has no literal shape, helps you create a story about it. Many people are kinesthetic thinkers, if you’re one of them this is how you get your play mojo going.
  5. Flip it. Turn it on it’s head. Playing with a challenge means pushing at it’s edges or turning it upside down. “Wouldn’t it be awful if…” is a way to turn the downside into something positive. Here’s a bit more detail on this item.
  6. Look at it as if you were five years old. Or get an actual five year old, or even a ten year old, involved. They’ll see things you won’t. The obvious is often obscure to adults, we know too much.
  7. Look at it as if you are Ghandi. Or Jonathan Winters, or Obama, or Brene Brown. Or that wise teacher you had in eight grade. Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and allow your thinking to be guided by their wisdom.
  8. Play out scenarios using Improv games. If you don’t know how to do this, hire some Improv actors, or hire a coach that knows how to use Improv games for problem solving. Here’s more detail on using Improv games. Or, just use a game from the Improv playbook as a way to warm up the group and get the team having fun.
  9. Gamify it, or make it a contest. Keep it light-hearted, this isn’t about winning, it’s about engaging with a concept. Fun competition is a way to reduce fear.

So, there you have it.

If you are looking for a really fun Keynote Speech, or Workshop. These nine items and the stories and hands-on exercises are meaningful fun. Get in touch! I’ll put play into your next meeting.

10 Essential Elements of an Innovation Mandate

Getting a Mandate to Innovate is Key Larger companies typically have an innovation process in place. They don’t always work, but the majority of the Fortune 1000 has some kind of innovation process or system. There is an implied consent then, to innovate, at those organizations. There are people, budgets, expectations. At smaller companies, the Mis-Fortune 5000 as I sometimes jest, there is often not a process in place. In many of these still sizable firms innovation tends to be a reaction to an emergency, or a sporadic effort that takes a back seat to operations. They often default to incremental improvement of the product or service based on customer demands. A newly appointed Innovation VP or Director at a




Read More..

Innovation Facilitator Tool Kit

I am sometimes asked what a Facilitator should have in their kit bag. Here’s my answer — the Innovation Facilitator Tool Kit list. The items are below in bold. Many have links to where you can source the materials. I’m assuming the facilitator is a hands-on project leader who facilitates meetings, such as idea generation or strategy sessions. I did not take into consideration travel via plane or car. Obviously, some things are more portable than others. Consider this a master list which you can subset for your needs. Some of these items are not available off the shelf retail, so, put this kit together ahead of time so you can focus on design and executing your session plan as




Read More..

Five Magic Imagination Guidelines

Five Magic Imagination Guidelines You hear it so often that it becomes one of those things that you really don’t think about it. “Use your imagination” is the phrase or thought that I’m talking about. I believe that many of us actually fear our own imagination. That’s tragic, don’t be afraid. It occurs to me that most people have the desire, deep down, to use their imagination more — but have no idea how. Here’s how. First of all Access your imagination more often. Do it deliberately. If you ask your imagination for ideas or visions once a year it’s a bit like that faucet in the back of the house you never use. When you turn it on, it’s




Read More..

Temporary Innovation Veep

The case for bringing in a temporary Innovation Veep.* “On Call Innovation Director/Mentor/Trainer”? What really changes innovation culture? Are you seeking a change in your innovation approach? Is your organization mired in a non-innovative swamp? First let me say what does NOT change innovation culture. It’s not that these services that I’ll mention below can’t be helpful, they can. But on there own, they will not change innovation at your organization. There’s one thing that will change culture and I talk about that at the bottom of this post. Don’t skip ahead. * Let me acknowledge the ideas of author Michael Foster — we discussed these concepts about a Temp Veep over coffee in San Jose a few weeks ago




Read More..

21 Rules for Innovation Team Building

I revised this “rule of thumb” list for a client and she suggested I re-share it in a blog post. This list is the accumulated wisdom of many years and it includes thinking from colleagues in the innovation space. Its target is the innovation team leader, but there are lessons for all types of team members here. The big change from the previous version is the emphasis on projects. It’s the key to Innovation in my view, from culture change to positive team dynamics to effectiveness of an overall innovation program. It’s the one thing of innovation — doing Projects. So here goes: 21 Rules for Innovation Team Building 1. A strong bold project initiative, with a clear vision for




Read More..

Damaged Pure Michigan Brand Impedes Economic Development

Pure Michigan is a Damaged Brand As a Michigan resident I’ve followed the developments in Flint with a mixture of horror, sadness, outrage, and confusion.  This post is not about political blame. Having said that, I don’t deny the political element to the problem; it’s a sad tale of bad decisions on top of bad decisions, and some of those made for purely political reasons. Fact seeking people on both sides of the aisle need to take a very close look at what’s happened. The focus of this post is about the damage that has been done to the state of Michigan’s brand, Pure Michigan.  This is not being talked about, but it’s as damaging in the long run as




Read More..

Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Innovation

The Time is Now to Plan for 2016 Innovation This time of year it’s natural to get an innovation plan in place — if you’re not there already — the time is now. Talking to customers about their innovation efforts I’m hearing regrets in December. Wishes for having done more, and done more sooner. Shel Silverstein wrote a poem that sums it up nicely: Woulda-Coulda- Shoulda All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas Layin’ in the sun, Talkin’ bout the things They woulda-coulda-shoulda done… But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas All ran away and hid From one little did. by Shel Silverstein A Simple Innovation Plan — in 7 Steps I get it, innovation, if it’s not part of your culture, is hard to kick start and get




Read More..

Graphene Application Challenge Prize?

The Graphene Challenge Graphene is a new material that is just in its infancy in terms of commerical usage. It’s from graphite, the stuff in pencils. It’s magical stuff — 150 times stronger than steel, flexible like rubber, and potentially usable in electronics, water filtration, energy, building construction, medical, and more. It’s the thinnest material known to man at this moment. It’s 250 times more conductive or “mobile” than silicon. It hit the news again recently as scientists have discovered a much cheaper way to produce the material. This is a market that is about to explode. It’s frustratingly hard to work with. But that’s the fun part.  Unfortunately for the USA, it would see the prime early movers in




Read More..

Paying Lip Service to Developing Entrepreneurs

There is a very frightening trend happening in the USA. We are not growing entrepreneurs. See my “Seven Ways to Grow Entrepreneurs” below! What is it we believe in our capitalist country? Isn’t it something like this: Anybody who works very hard, has a bit of talent and a good idea, can start something, grow it, and do well.  Isn’t that the essence of the entrepreneurial American dream? Yes, there is more to it than that. Yes, you can fail. Yes, it’s a market driven meritocracy — or it should be. I’ve always taken this entrepreneurial spirit for granted – it’s who we are! I’ve always assumed that as the years go by, more and more Americans (and this extends




Read More..