For a time (a goodly time, actually; actually, more than ten years, starting around 1985) I explored how what I had learned about games and play could be applied to business and work. I had always thought of games as a kind of, well, meeting. This had a lot to do with Marty Buber and a book he shared with me called I and Thou. (So, OK, so it’s not that I knew Marty or anything, or that I actually called him “Marty” and not “Martin,” or that he personally leant me a copy. But, you know, it was like I knew him, like we had been in, well, dialog, finding his book. And it wasn’t like I actually read it, but more or less dipped a conceptual toe in it, from time to time.) It reached me deeply, this little, very profound book. And in it he used the term “meetings” to describe something very much like what happens when people play with each other. “All real living,” said Martin, “is meeting.” And yes, I said to myself, yes, when we are playing together, it’s more like real living than anything else we do together. And it’s very much like meeting each other, entirely, deeply, totally.
And, for me, the connections between work and play were made everywhere evident by watching kids playing at work, or working at play.
And I had, in fact, experienced some meetings that were, at least ostensibly, all about play. They were called teambuilding meetings. And, for the most part, they were fun, and games were played.
And about this time, when I was reading Buber and playing with kids and attending teambuilding meetings, I was also play/working with a software tool, now known as an “outliner,” using it to play with ideas for games, doing something very much like brainstorming and then making connections between the various flashes, assembling them into bright ideas, so to speak – a process I came to know as “collect, connect, correct.”
It seemed obvious to me that if I could somehow process with people who were working (not building teams) together, I could do for them the very thing I was doing for myself. So I found a computer projector (I think at that time there was only one available), called a Limelight), and had my Mac 128 modified so that I could use the projector, and started making the rounds. I lived in Silicon Valley at the time, where many meetings were going on, and many of them were actually for the purpose of getting things done (a distinction that took me several years to make clear to myself), so I got to try this idea out a lot, and in some happy cases, it worked, and in some happier cases, I got paid the big bucks for making it work. And in 1986 I published Power Meetings, and in 1990 an expanded version called Connected Executives.
I learned a lot. I learned that I could help people play with their ideas, together, just like I could help people play together. And that the idea of doing so was just as radical in the business world as it was in the worlds of education and recreation.
I facilitated meetings of all kinds, and, lo, I helped make many of them more productive, and caught the eye of people of significance, and learned all kinds of things about businesses and meetings, and though I wrote (and continue writing) some more articles about what I learned, I had a meeting with myself and I finally took into account the fact that the fun I was having wasn’t the kind of fun I wanted to be having or sharing or bringing into the world. Just like the kind of fun that comes from winning the Super Bowl isn’t the kind of fun I particularly want to be sharing or bringing into the world.
I like the kind of fun that isn’t quantifiable, that can’t be calculated in terms of score or stock value or action items accomplished. I like the I/Thou kind of fun that happens in a business meeting when we get so together that we experience each other as unknowable, undefinable, unlimited beings. Or in some silly game of tag, where everyone and no one is IT.
A playful path is the shortest road to happiness.
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