I am on my way home from an evening of joyful, experimental playfulness. Ten people, mostly unknown to one another, gathered together by a friend and colleague for an evening of games inspired by the world of comedy improvisation.
We’ve laughed, talked, experimented, and experienced some moments of surprising light and tenderness. And now, done, we head off into the damp London night.
I’m struck by how little space genuine play has in many of our lives, and particularly how absent it is in most workplaces. Since the days of the industrial revolution we have largely thought of work as a place of utmost seriousness. We have play progressively schooled out of ourselves by an education system obsessed with predictability and measurement. We’ve relegated it to the margins, thought of it as a distraction, boxed it in to prescribed spaces and times – away days, workshops.
Our most productive, inventive, connected and generative moments come when we abandon our pretensions and tendency to over-think and allow ourselves to be playfully drawn out of ourselves by situations and by others. Such play has enormous restorative power, bringing us back to the aliveness of our bodies and the richness of our interactions with others.
It seems we’d rather ignore the signs of our own stiflement – boredom, tiredness, fogginess and stress – and plough on with our processes and structures even when they no longer serve us. Seriousness has become equated with professionalism, play with taking liberties.
And, yes, play is the taking of liberties – a necessary act of freeing ourselves from our rigidity so that something surprising and fresh and alive can happen.