Playing with Other People’s Money
I’ve been trying to reconcile the idea of play:
“Don’t do anything that isn’t play. “
~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
with the reality of spending other people’s money:
“There’s been one underlying basic fallacy in this whole set of social security and welfare measures, and that is the fallacy – this is at the bottom of it – the fallacy that it is feasible and possible to do good with other people’s money. That view has two flaws. If I want to do good with other people’s money, I first have to take it away from them. That means that the welfare state philosphy of doing good with other people’s money, at it’s very bottom, is a philosophy of violence and coercion. It’s against freedom, because I have to use force to get the money. In the second place, very few people spend other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own.”
~ Milton Friedman
By “other people’s money” I mean the money we get paid to do things on behalf of e.g. employers or clients.
I’m not sure I agree with Milton Friedman on anything, including the above quote. But it does raise an interesting question: How we feel about “spending” our clients’ or employers’ coin. And by “spending” I’m specifically talking about us, deciding when and how to spend our time – time for which they are notionally paying.
Aside: I say notionally, because by far the most prevailing mental model I see is that of a “time-and-materials” basis for the exchange of money for services.
I have throughout my career felt anxious to spend my time – and thus my client’s money – wisely. Often it has seemed like I have been much more anxious – or I might say, diligent – about this than they.
But recently, in the context of e.g. nonviolent communication, I have begun to wonder about the dynamics of this, and whether it’s truly beneficial. Either for me or the “payer”.
What does Marshall Rosenberg’s advice about play really mean? What are the implications for the workplace? Here’s my interpretation:
Play is the opposite of obligation. When kids play they’re not thinking “how can I see a decent return to my parents / teachers / kindergarten for the time and effort they’ve invested in my toys, my playroom, my food?” Neither “Am i playing well? Is the quality of my play good enough?” Nor even “How might we play better?” – at least, not consciously.
Play is an obligation-free zone. Most adults seem truly constipated when it comes to free play. I guess the weight of obligations in our lives, bearing down on us, might have something to do with that.
The Value of Play
Of course, many might regard it as preposterous to suggest that play has any value in the workplace. The notion of work is the very antitheses of play, in most people’s minds. Work is stuff we have to do, are obliged to do, isn’t it?
Aside: I see the opposite of “play” as “depression”, not work. Although, God knows, most work without play is terminally depressing.
“Whatever you’re doing, if it’s purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play.”
~ Stuart Brown
Surely if we deny purpose and instead emphasise play, then the whole edifice of society will come tumbling down around our ears? (And maybe that might be a good thing). And don’t the Agile, Lean and other progressive management folks bang on about the need for (shared, common) purpose?
I can’t convince you that it would be otherwise, but the idea of obliquity affords us the opportunity to believe that instead of the world coming to an end, it might become a more joyous and wonderful place. And that through more play, and more emphasis on play, we might come to achieve our purposes more effectively? This is what Marshall Rosenberg is getting at, I think.
“The basis of human trust is established through play signals”
~ Stuart Brown
Neoteny means: the retention of immature qualities into adulthood. Humans are the most neotenous of all creatures. This gives us as a species a leg-up in adaptability. Dare I say, in agility? Denying play, then, downgrades our neoteny, our adaptability, our agility. Not to mention the connection between neoteny and innovation.
The Lean View
“Don’t work simply to be working – if work is finished, go play.”
~ Taiichi Ohno
Ohno kind of understood. Long before in-depth research came to the same conclusion.
Except I like to think that these days he might choose to go further:
“Don’t work simply to be working – even if work isn’t finished, go play.”
Money and Responsibility
I must thank @neilkillick for a twitter conversation recently which prompted me to string these ideas together into this blog post.
He writes about his feelings of self-obligation to “provide sound professional advice and courtesy”. And, I infer, a near-continous state of self-judgement, asking “am I providing best value?”
My view: If we feel obliged to do something, we are doing violence to ourselves, albeit unwittingly in most cases. Ditto with self-judgment. And violence, even self-violence – means less joy, and fewer “good things” – like engagement, energy, flow, cognitive function and invention. Which in turn means we are NOT providing the best service to our clients that we could be – in a more obligation-free, non-judgmental, playful environment and state of mind.
In fact, I feel we OWE it to ourselves, to our clients, to our employers, to our friends, and to our society to live by Rosenberg’s words. Never do anything that isn’t play.
That’s one notional obligation I can live with.
“Play is the purest expression of love.”
~ Stuart Brown
Would you be willing to play along with me and playfully share your perspective on this topic?
Obliquity ~ John Kay
Play Is More Than Just Fun ~ Stuart Brown (TED video)
The Importance of Play for Adults ~ Margarita Tartakovsky
Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning ~ Gina Kemp, Melinda Smith et al
The Importance of Play for Adults ~ Julie Baumgardner
New Theory: People Need to Play More ~ LiveScience