Work sucks… or so we often assume. But as co-author David Thomas and I explain in our new book, FUN AT WORK™: How to Boost Creativity, Unleash Innovation, and Reinvent the Future of Work Using the Transformative Power of Play, it doesn’t have to. How can you better attract and retain top talent, motivate employees to give their best efforts, and build a more diverse and inclusive workplace though − let alone create an organizational culture where creativity, innovation, and leadership thrive? As it turns out, doing so doesn’t have to be particularly time-consuming, costly, or difficult when you apply a few simple shifts in thinking and strategy… and make it an active priority to create more welcoming and uplifting workplaces that offer more positive working models.
As we discovered, the process of positively transforming your organization starts by seeking to boost your company’s insight and capabilities in four areas:
Likewise, it requires a shift in organizational mindset and values, to prioritize principles like creativity, imagination, and productive risk-taking alongside traditional working values like productivity, accountability, and customer service. Ironically, this should come as no surprise, given that attributes like curiosity, wonder, and discovery are what drew most of us to our professional callings initially, and that a workplace without joy can often be a highly-productive, but deeply-unsatisfying environment. (You know what they say about all work and no play, after all…) But still, many organizations continue to struggle to attract and hold onto talent, let alone make the most of staffers’ abilities, because they traditionally prioritize values that appear more professional in nature. Stop to think about it more deeply though, and you may find yourself asking: Do you really want to work in an environment that downplays attributes like joy, curiosity, and laughter in favor of efficiency and productivity instead?
Notably, a host of brands have found greater creativity, success, and innovation by more actively encouraging employees to spend time ideating and brainstorming, be themselves at work, and embrace the transformative power of play. From kidney care provider DaVita (which says “we know healthcare is hard work, but even hard work can be fun”) and Virgin (whose billionaire founder Richard Branson isn’t above dressing in drag to raise money for charity), results often speak for themselves. By giving workers more space in their workday to brainstorm and be creative; more room to cost-productively and quickly experiment with new ideas; and more chances to think like intrapraneurs (entrepreneurial thinkers within the organization), they’re not only routinely creating more pathways to ongoing success by not being afraid to think out of the proverbial box. They’re also regularly finding ways to better humanize their brands, build stronger relationships with customers and partners, and reimagine or reinvent themselves to stay relevant in a rapidly-changing business world.
In fact, as a keynote speaker and corporate trainer who’s helped over 1,500 brands adapt to change and uncertainty, games are one of the most powerful tools in my teaching arsenal. (See The Future is Yours, a board game I recently created that makes new technologies and trends easier to teach audiences at meetings and events.) As a sample exercise to see this principle in motion, you can try (a) giving groups of employees a business challenge, then asking them to adapt their strategies in real-time every five minutes by hitting them with a surprise disruption (growing economic hiccups, rising geopolitical volatility, etc.) or (b) telling staffers that they now work for a competitor and giving them 30 minutes to figure out how to outfox (and outbox) your enterprise and its current strategies. Similarly, as we explain via the POP FUTURE™ training method, in a world of shrinking attention spans and growing Zoom fatigue (an actual scientific phenomenon), it’s no surprise that using short, humorous videos; quirky, eye-catching visual charts and graphs; and offbeat animations has now become one of the most effective ways to boost learning and retention in live and online professional learning environments. Likewise, the less boring that you choose to make meetings? (Say, by challenging participants to see how many times they can slip in buzzwords like “Web 3.0” or “digital transformation” during discussions, forcing them to more actively pay attention and be more alert, conversant, and engaged…) The better off you’ll be.
In the immortal words of famed film character Willy Wonka, “a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” Amusingly, as we were delighted to discover across myriad industries, it can also be a powerful tool for business leaders looking to boost creativity, empathy, and employee engagement to employ. In other words, it’s one thing to say that you’re looking for your organization to be more diverse, inclusive, and uplifting. It’s another to champion these principles in practice by actively inviting employees to bring their authentic selves to work, offering more opportunities for them to speak up and be heard, and providing additional permission for them to take the lead across a host of fictional and real-world strategic planning scenarios, even if they’re not technically “leaders” according to their job title. Along similar lines, many businesses talk a good game about innovation – but actually putting innovation into practice means regularly inviting individuals with differing ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives to the table, and routinely offering them more chances to put imaginative, unexpected, or even seemingly counterintuitive ideas in motion.
As it turns out, the more room that you give yourselves and your staff to have fun and actively play at work within structured boundaries and with an active objective in mind? And the more that you lean on flexible strategies to reach tangible milestones that you can measure? The more rapidly you’ll boost employee participation, enhance staff engagement, and improve workers’ productivity – and, for that matter, the more readily that you’ll be able to build a workplace that tomorrow’s working professionals can’t stop raving about, and can’t wait to come back to.
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