The Power of Play in Business

power of play in business

All Work and No Play Makes…

Have you played today? No, seriously, have you played today?

I ask because I’ve been thinking recently about how certain areas of the pet industry are facing a crisis. Veterinarians and animal welfare and shelter organizations see people leaving the profession in droves, and, in some extreme and heartbreaking cases, professionals are choosing to take their lives.

For 16 years, I saw far too many bright people and fantastic ideas go out or leave. But why?

There are a myriad of reasons including lack of opportunity or resources. The intensity of some pet industry jobs coupled with increasing responsibilities can lead to major burnout. This was one of the reasons I started ‘cause Digital Marketing and partnered with Working With Dog because I saw what was happening to the people in my field and I wanted to have a meaningful, enjoyable career to sustain me to the end.

One of the things pet professionals and entrepreneurs infrequently think about—and need to think about—is how to maintain the joy that got us into the profession in the first place.

All of this is what got me thinking about PLAY!

Why Play?

My dad is an artist. A director and voice teacher in NYC, he is a huge proponent of play. He taught me by example that joy comes from approaching everything with the same childlike exploration of playing.

In a research study, scientists looked at where the drive to play stems from. When higher cognitive functions were removed from rats, they still played. Turns out the play-drive is deeply rooted in the most primitive and original areas of the brain. This indicates that if play did not have a biological or evolutionary purpose, it would have died out.

Clearly, play has a function in life to serve.

As children, we play because it’s fun and we get the opportunity to learn the act of adulthood. Play teaches us social interactions, boundaries of being a good citizen, and identifying then practicing skills that we will use in adulthood. Play teaches us about ourselves, what we are capable of, and how we are in relationship to communities. We learn the rules of the game and how to work within the game system. Often times play reduces stress and aggression.

A Hunter-Gather View on Play.

Scientists who studied hunter-gather communities reported on play. These communities used the words work and play interchangeably. They approached what needed to be done (work) in a playful manner. What I found most interesting is there was space in their society for creativity while still meeting daily needs.

Key aspects of their community that allowed room for play included—

1. Work is not burdensome because there is not too much of it.

They naturally gave themselves time, breathe, and space to work in different ways without long stints of it. They didn’t force themselves to work longer than they reasonable could to still get the result they wanted—which valued not only outcome of activity but the quality of life for the person performing the activity. It reminded me of dog training. We know involving a dog in short bursts of fun makes training more like play than work.

2. Work is varied and required intelligence, knowledge, and skill.

Developing a number of skills and testing them in the workplace was part of the community. It wasn’t about doing the same rote task over and over again but rather the ways in which people leveraged new knowledge and problem-solved—all of which requires creativity.

3. Most work/play is done in a social context.

It’s difficult to sometimes see the social context in which work is performed if you don’t see a team everyday or if you’re a sole entrepreneur. But our work is always in conversation with the world around us and it helps mold it into the future. I don’t necessarily sit down with my team regularly and play games BUT I do sit with data and ideas and when I’ve taken it as far as I can, I bring it to others to see what they have to say about it. They bounce back to me and suddenly creativity skyrockets. This exchange is exactly like play. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of having to be the best when in reality we just need one piece of the puzzle because what we offer impacts the aggregate of human knowledge.

4. Each person is free to decide when, how, and whether to work.

The hunter-gather society allows the individual to choose if they want to join the people looking for a particular root or form a party to hunt a specific prey or to stay home. The community respects the individual’s decision and the individual understand how their decision impacts the society.

Social science has shown us that “the consequences of adult play deprivation are: lack of vital life engagement; diminished optimism; stuck-in-a-rut feeling about life with little curiosity or exploratory imagination to alter their situation; predilection to escapist temporary fixes…alcohol, excessive exercise, (or other compulsions); a personal sense of being life’s victim rather than life’s conqueror.”

In other words, at any age, play is basic requirement for health, wellness and full expression of being a fulfilled human.

When You’re Afraid, Play!

If something is intimidating, play! Quite a few people find Google analytics or other data-driven platforms big and scary. Allowing yourself the liberty to choose when, how, and whether to work or to play is probably going to prove more beneficial in the long term.

One caveat though—you’ll need to develop methods to remind yourself to do it and possibly some encouragement to try something new or different or scary.

A Strategy to Make Play of Analyzing Data

Analyzing data does not have to be an arduous task. And, frankly, the longer you hold it off, the bigger of a deal it will most likely become in your mind. In order to develop the skill of analyzing and synthesizing data to help inform business decision, we have to reduce the fear barrier.

Forget your business goals (for a time period). I know. I get it. I totally get it. It’s super hard for me to forget my goals BUT when I need to get an accurate portrait of where I’m at, I have to move my sight from the long term to the immediate task. It’s about blurring your vision. It’s only you and the data.

Set an alarm. Remember, short bursts will do wonders. Maybe start with 30 minutes and for those 30 minutes, all you’re going to do is play with data. Get lost in thought. Get lost in the mess of it. Don’t worry about anything else. The alarm will bring you back to reality. Play is full engagement with life. When kids play tag or a board game or some weird game they came up with, they have no sense of the outside world. It’s just them and the game. That’s it.

Look through (not at) everything. This is not the time to look at hard data or little details. It’s about finding something that captures your attention. If something sticks out, that’s probably something to learn from.

Collect 3 to 5 pieces that pop out. Maybe your site had a traffic spike or you see a sudden influx of business from a referrer you didn’t know you had. Whatever it is, you don’t need ot know why they are this way but rather you are observing some trend. This is where getting social might come into play. You can ask a team member or colleague or mentor, “I noticed this in my data. It’s strange. Not sure what it means, if anything. I would love your thoughts.” There are plenty of resources online—even if you aren’t with a community like Working with Dog, a Google search might reveal others with similar trends that can be helpful.

Set up a time to play. The more often you play with data, the more expertise and confidence you’ll develop through the experience. You have to feel the fear but do the thing anyways. You can’t get it wrong. This is more about practice, about allowing time and space to just observe what’s happening.

Artists like my dad, musicians, writers, athletes, and most all people at the top of their field know a philosophy of play liberates the human spirit and only from there, the great and necessary work can be done.

Play is not treating something as unimportant or frivolous. Play is absolute abandon of the outside world and full action in the present moment. It gets us out of thought and into action! It relieves pressure. It helps us breathe. It’s like an actor in a play. The person steps out of their personality and takes on their character role. It’s pure engagement. To play means you’re all in.

We all need to play so we can stick around, so we can stay in this industry and so we can grow in the long term to help pets and the people who love them.

Thanks and have a playful day!

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