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AMA Roundup, Paul's Take: Make Play a Core Part of Your Culture

Paul Fadden
2 August 2018
AMA Roundup, Paul's Take: Make Play a Core Part of Your Culture

Every year the AMA conference is inspiring, thought provoking and of course lots of fun! This year was no different. I have to say that I found this year’s conference outstanding. I was motivated in one way or another by all of the speakers and was especially intrigued to learn about how they incorporate fun into their work environments.

In the opening address from Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE Director Africa Centre, Kenneth explained that playing is fundamental to creativity. He discussed how all human beings are naturally creative, and that playful environments foster and drive more creativity.

Another fantastic talk was with Emma Rice, Artistic Director at Wise Children. She absolutely oozes life experience, and you could see straight away there was so much you could learn from her both professionally and personally. Her talk focused on the role of fear and it not being conducive to positive and productive work. She related this idea back to her work with actors and how she has total responsibility to them. “Their success or failure is entirely down to me, I try not to judge them,” she noted.

She deals with a broad range of actors with all different personalities, and needs to ensure they all have a platform to succeed and express themselves. She talked about how she needs to be particularly mindful of personalities who are not a natural fit to her own to ensure they don’t feel alienated.

My big takeaway from Emma’s talk is that giving people the space to show emotion is critical to a nurturing environment where good ideas are rewarded and criticizing takes a backseat. I really love this idea of “removing fear and encouraging play”. if more organisations took this mindset I think it would really revolutionise creativity at work as well as create healthier work environments. This talk paired with Alice Procter’s discussion on the importance for creating a space for dissent in an organisation, really gives you food for thought on how to build an effective organisational culture.

Next up on my favourites list was Tom Rainsford from Giff Gaff, and his talk on how they have used play at work.

Giff Gaff (Scottish for mutual benefit) is a disruptive mobile operator in the UK. Tom discussed how Giff Gaff encourages play to be disruptive and set them apart from their competition.

Central to this is a seemingly simple yet complex idea: to fully deliver on your organisation’s messaging and positioning (whatever that is), that messaging and positioning should be part of the organisational culture. He gave a brilliant example of a certain phone network who present a fun and engaging marketing campaign, but have a company culture that is completely at odds with their public face.

This simple, yet powerful insight was what Giff Gaff used to be disruptive in the market and create a point of difference. Their offering was intentionally fun and risky but more importantly it was run by fun and engaging people who ensured this culture was fostered inside the company.

Encourage devilment, embrace failure, question everything.

The ideas which helped Giff Gaff deliver on their successful entry into the mobile network arena

Tom noted that the biggest winners are often those that have play at the heart of their business. By doing things differently we can disrupt, challenge, and win.

But how do you really encourage play - in adults? Kids play and adults don’t. Kids do silly, outlandish stuff all the time - adults - not so much. Why? Kids are free of inhibition and not constrained by societal norms. There is a lot we can learn from kids and how they embrace fun as a part of learning in their everyday lives. Because the truth is you don’t have to teach people how to play, you just have to help them find their inner silly kid.

Tom shared the example of a school in Exeter where school administrators forbade boys to wear shorts to school during hot weather. The boys' response? They wore dresses and skirts of course! It is a perfect example of how being playful and smart allowed them to navigate around rules and challenge the norm. They were disruptive and dissented in a fun and playful way.

Giff Gaff really embraced this idea of play with their campaign Don’t Be Scared. They were very deliberate in their search for what was the zeitgeist at the and time and decided on the zeitgeist of zombies - zeitgeists work

They aired the advert on TV and sent a text to channel 4, “10:15 don’t be scared.” This helped them achieve exceptional levels of social engagement and brand awareness.

Tom also talked about how play drives social engagement and being more playful in your social media can really spark interest in your fans. But again, it comes back to your organisational culture and work environment.

But how do you get there? How do you really get play to be a central way your organisation thinks and behaves? Making rituals is the way to do this.

Tom gave everyone a great example of ritual with a story about Twla Tharp the American dancer and choreographer. Twla Tharp wakes up every morning at 5:30am to go to the gym and workout for 2 hours. Interestingly, is not so much the workout session that matters, but the ritual of the taxi ride etc. For Twla Tharp it is this ritual that fuels her creativity.

The challenge for arts organisations is to figure out what ritual we can adopt in our work life that can be the catalyst to play.

Lessons about play: Play with a Point and Make it Part of Your Culture

Tom asks the question “If you introduce play what effect will this have on the customers”.

Understand your organisation’s values and how to communicate these with your audience.

My Top Takeaways:

I am fortunate to have worked in a variety of work environments from rigid corporate environments where self expression was frowned upon to a multitude of summer jobs where having a laugh was a large part of staying the course. My summer job portfolio includes over 15 jobs from moving furniture in Boston and San Francisco, to working in my family drapery store. Play and fun were very much part of many of these jobs while totally lacking in others.

I would always, and still do, naturally gravitate to people who don’t take themselves too seriously and know how to have a laugh. A more playful environment meant it was easier dealing with stressful situations when they arose, and of course the by-product was a smiley and more productive customer facing Paul :)

In my corporate life, I was lucky to have managers who embraced fun and no matter how sticky the work situation was, they could inject humour and wit to get you across the line. Fun was so so important to my existence and was driven by the individual rather than being an organisational policy.

Ultimately fun in the workplace is not a tick box exercise. The team must embrace it and it really needs to be at the core of the organisation’s culture. If we can engender a culture of fun we will most definitely see a ripple effect both internally and externally in our organisations.

At Ticketsolve we truly value the importance of fun; it is in the very fabric of our culture. We try to incorporate it in all aspects of our business as much as possible. The AMA conference reaffirmed the importance of incorporating play into work, and that ultimately it cannot be forced - it needs to be a core part of your organisation’s values.

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