Features

Join the revolution: the future of work is play

- February 8, 2018 3 MIN READ

“By the time I was 25 I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” says Emmy award-winning Creative Director Gwen Gordon, whose career highlights include puppeteering on popular kids’ show Sesame Street to building furry computers for kids at MIT to founding her own award-winning children’s TV series to her most recent efforts as a proponent of the ‘work is play’ philosophy.

“I started my life thinking this is a playground but in almost no time my playground turned into a proving ground,” she tells Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) of her early years at Sesame Street.

“We think if we just have the perfect job we will have fun at work.  But it’s an inside job. We’ve been conditioned to see the world as something we need to get something from; and that we have to produce something or do something to have value. And in the very worst-case scenario we believe the world is full of threats – every situation is a test – and we need to protect and defend ourselves.”

Emerging from the cocoon of art school to a fulltime gig at Sesame Street as a puppeteer, Gordon had initially thought she was living the dream, but soon became overwhelmed by the pressure of working for the famous brand.

“I discovered how I could turn a dream job into a stress-trap,” she says. Whilst she loved the opportunity to embrace play in her daily work, the role also forced here to confront her own blockages to creativity.  The process inspired her to begin thinking about the notion of work as play. Almost 25 years later and Gordon is one of the leading lights in the work as play movement.


Gordon suggests switching to a playground mentality can be beneficial for all businesses. And with Australian second only to Japan in terms of workaholism, it’s a message she says Aussies need to hear.

“We don’t need to buy into that idea of play being the devil’s playground,” she says.

Gordon explains we need only look at evolution to understand the idea that the world is not a machine and that even if it were it would be adaptive.

“As the universe evolves through play – it creates creatures that play. Evolution creates playfulness as life becomes more complex. As species become more complex they become more playful. And humans are one of the most playful species.  Motivation, creativity adaptability – it’s the kale of behaviour. It is fundamental to our wellbeing and survival. It is created in the limbic brain.”


Gordon suggests you will find the future of work wherever people are having the most fun. Creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand.

“What we know from the research is people who treat tasks as play are more creative than those who treat it as work. Play generates possibilities and creativity turns them into actualities and innovation makes them useful,” she says.

Still, Gordon is quick to suggest

“popping a ping pong table into a cut-throat proving ground isn’t gonna cut it”.

She tells KBB employers need to nurture play.

“To create true playgrounds at work we need to shift the culture. Anyone in an organisation knows this is about the hardest thing to do. But bringing play to the process can make anything possible.”

According to Gordon, play also comes with a few rules…

“I think of them as the pillars of play: Safety, permission, process. The Aristotle Project showed psychological safety is most important in emotional wellbeing of teams. So it’s important that your team knows you’re there for them. Permission: In that playful leaders inspire play. Model play behaviour and encourage play. There can be no tyranny of fun – so no enforced paly people need to want to participate… Welcome everything. And let go of results.  You can’t be attached to being playful it is about the process.”

Gordon suggests employing the “playground mindset” can help staff and businesses grow and innovate.

“When we play for the joy of it, when we aren’t attached to outcomes, we catch a glimpse of what is possible. As Erik Erikson said: ‘The opposite or play is death’.”

You see Gwen Gordon delivering her ethos on the future of work is play at PauseFest.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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