At CounterPlay 2017 I had the honour of hosting a workshop with the conference’s participants in which we explored the impact that adding elements of Play would have on worklike tasks.

It was a bit different undertaking such explorations with already onboard ‘Play People’. In one activity I asked the participants to determine how we might use the last ten minutes of the session. I broke them into small groups and allocated them roles. A third simply had to discuss what they would like to do; another third had to wait a couple of minutes then start making outrageous suggestions, and the remainder took the ‘one minute left!’ warning as their cue to bring their group back to sensible ideas. They didn’t know each others’ tasks.

It turns out that at a play conference the participants love to go wild with their suggestions. Bringing the discussion back to sensible: not so much!

What perhaps fascinated me the most was a general thirst for conclusions – and one that I didn’t feel qualified to satisfy. I find that experiments with play almost invariably lead to ambiguous conclusions – and part of the delight is that even something as simple as detecting when play is occurring can be complex!

We explored whether play is detectable even when the other side of a negotiation doesn’t know it’s happening; if play can depersonalise discussions of topics that can be hard to come to agreement over; whether it impacts negatively on productivity or efficiency.

“Anyone that claims to be a finished expert in play is just missing the vast, exciting opportunity to learn so much more about it”

Next time I’ll definitely aim to be more open about what I was expecting and hoping to test, even if the reflection necessarily has to occur afterwards, so as to avoid influencing behaviour during the activities. But I think I’ll also be much more honest about what I don’t know. Play is about vulnerability, and the truth is that anyone that claims to be a finished expert in play is just missing the vast, exciting opportunity to learn so much more about it.

Part of the real joy of this conference is that everyone there is seeking to learn from play and discover truths about humanity that are squashed by a world that favours efficiency and productivity above connection. There’s so much we don’t know about play, and by extension about ourselves – and I for one could not be more excited about being part of the intrepid band who want to explore it!

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