Happy 1st Birthday!

Share-PlayThe School of Play turns one today! And as though by magic, it falls on April Fools’ Day.

Dare to Dream Greatly

The School of Play began as one of my most ambitious dreams to date. It goes like this:

One day, when my little girl is all grown up, just before she sets foot on her starship, ready for yet another intergalactic mission to make new friends and facilitate intergalactic peace, she turns around and kisses me on the cheek. “Mama,” she says, “I love doing what I do every day with my friends knowing that we’re creating a better world.”

And that’s when I know we’ve together created a world where everyone can thrive by turning their dreams into a reality. Just imagine what such a world would be like!

The Power of a Wish

Like all powerful wishes, The School of Play came to life in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. Many people would tell me, “Are you sure you want to include the word ‘play’ in the name of your school? People might not take it seriously”. While others would simply roll their eyes with disapproval and disgust at the thought of adults having fun, not just at home but at work, too.

And that’s when I knew I was onto something important. Every time I’ve had a truly weird and wonderful idea, I’d experienced such negative reactions. That was, until I moved out of the naysayers’ sphere of influence and went in search for others who were courageous, nurturing and generous enough to let other people’s ideas live.

Tatoo

Carpe Annum

The first year of running the school has turned me into an entrepreneur, a product manager, a web designer, an accountant and a philanthropist and much more besides. That’s not to say that I’m an expert in all those roles, but rather I now get to practice whole-heartedly things like Lean and Agile principles and practices and put them to the test on my life’s purpose: to promote happier adulthood through lifelong play.

Gratitude and Friendship

And so it is with great gratitude and joy (not to mention relief), that I find myself celebrating The School’s first birthday with global playmakers in a world playground created by play visionary Mathias Poulsen with the purpose of creating a more playful society for greater good for all.

Lovely to have met up with my old friend Carsten Ruseng and many thanks to Flick Hardingham and Ben Ross for showing me the magic doorway to the world of play!

Party

Want to Play?

As part of The School’s birthday treat, we’ve launched the next 1-day play adventure, “From Strangers to Ourselves: Exploring Our Identity and Relationships“. We hope you’ll join us!

We’re also developing a programme on play intelligence – so watch this space!

Meanwhile, here’s wishing you a playful 2017! With much love from the beautiful town of Aarhus, Denmark.

From Carpe Diem to Carpe Annum

hygge-hugs

Each new year warrants at least a glance in the rear view mirror and, for me, what leaps into focus is the Secret Santa present I was given during Christmas dinner hosted by my friend Debs.

I’d been daydreaming about taking The School of Play to Scandinavia for a while now so imagine my delight when I was given “The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the Happiest Country” by Helen Russell. The next thing you know, I’m practicing hygge, pronounced “hooga” loosely translated as “coziness”, by treating myself to a guilt-free Danish pastry on the way to work.

What more liberating way to start one’s day than with a sugary hug on a cold winter morning? A great antidote to the chronic zombiism to which many of my fellow commuters seem to have succumbed given the way they barge their fellow human beings out of the way in order to get a seat on the train or tube so that they can stay asleep for longer.

What’s more, fuelled by the comforting combo of cinammon and sugar, I’ve dared to experiment with living Danishly by trusting those around me more. According to Denmark’s ‘happiness economist’ Christian Bjoernskov what Danes really care about is trust: “In Denmark, we trust not only family and friends, but also the man or woman on the street – and this makes a big difference to our lives and happiness levels.” When asked “Do you think most people can be trusted?” More than 70 percent of Danes say: “Yes.” The average of the rest of Europe is just over a third.

There’s more. Research shows that intelligent people are more likely to trust others (http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/03/14/intelligent-people-more-likely-to-trust-others/67092.html) – possibly because they are better judges of character, a form of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences according to Dr Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.

By setting myself the challenge and chance to be my authentic self, I’m re-discovering firsthand that trust engenders a sense of belonging and with it well-being that I’d only hitherto experienced back in my childhood days. And being congruent is so much more fun than wasting time and effort pretending to be something we’re not.

So where has practicing hygge got me so far? A special invitation to Denmark to present at Counterplay in March, a conference that summons the most playful community from around the world organised by fellow playmaker Mathias Poulsen. I’ll even be flying into Billund where The School of Play will warm up with a day out at Legoland on 29 March 2017 to rediscover many of the things we learned as children but have since forgotten… including trusting that strangers are simply friends you’ve not met yet. I hope you’ll join me and come out to play!

Watch this space for more fun and games… Meanwhile, wishing you a playful 2017! Here’s to happier adulthood through lifelong play!

To Play or Not to Play

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The most common question I get asked whenever I mention the School of Play is this: “The School of Play… what’s your demographic?”

What people really want to know is: “What kinds of adults want to play?” And, more importantly, “Are these adults like me?”

Based on my observations:

1. Adults who come to play at the school usually have a healthy sense of curiosity and some memory of play associated with past happiness.

2. The adults come from a diverse background with a shared desire to play more in order to achieve more of what they want in life. There is no stereotype of a typical player (or playmaker as I like to call us). This is evidence that play satisfies a fundamental drive and supports the ongoing development and maintenance of adults, not just for children.

The Risk of Play

It’s a well-known phenomenon that play isn’t all laughter and lightness. True play also comes with a degree of risk, stretching us beyond our comfort zone so that we can grow to become the person we want to be.

The Reward of Play

The reward of this risk-taking is a sense of freedom that many of us rarely get to experience as adults in our everyday life. And rarely at work. Engaging with more play outside of work is one way to begin to address this imbalance.

Do you dare to play?

Play means different things to different people but the benefits of play remain the same for those who have fun and let themselves enjoy life as it comes. When we play, we feel a sense of connectedness, to others and to ourselves. We feel a sense of belonging and play gives us hope so long as we keep going in pursuit of our life’s purpose (including figuring what it actually is).

What more can we ask of something seemingly simple and modest as pure play?

Yay or Nay to Play?

When we play, we become present as our whole selves and with this comes a great joy, relief and reassurance that we actually have what we need to overcome the challenges we face – at times, with a little help from our friends, of course!

So what will you choose to say the next time you’re invited to play?

A Play Confession

Sick-Society-Small

When I listen to people talk about play for long enough, they eventually tell me this: “Come to think about it, I don’t really play. I spend most of my time working and I’m too tired to do anything else when I get home. And if I happen to have any spare energy, I feel that I ought to spend it on something worthwhile instead of squandering it on play!”

It’s uncanny because this has always been my default response ever since becoming an adult. In spite of the compulsion to achieve all the time, I’ve come to recognise there is a direct correlation between how much I play and the amount of energy and happiness I feel. In fact, the more I play, the more energy I have, the happier I feel and the more I grow, the more I achieve.

And that’s why I make sure I play at least once a day for at least 15 minutes. Why? Because research shows that getting your daily amount of play is at least as important as taking your vitamins or ensuring you have a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. It’s not always easy to find the time to play, but I know I’ll feel better for it when I’ve played.

Playing to Survive or Thrive?

Judging by the large number of people doing the zombie shuffle during the daily commute, the majority of adults aren’t getting their daily recommended amount of play (15 minutes of play a day should help you overcome most of the ennui or challenges you face according to Dr Stuart Brown, a world-renowned expert on play).

What’s more, I’m seeing a recurring pattern. The more ambitious, hardworking and successful you are, the more likely you are to neglect play. Over a prolonged period of time, this could result in chronic play deficiency. And if we continue to live a life of all work and no true play, we may well end up coming face-to-face with our own Terrible Yoot (in the form of Depression and Despair).

So why not treat yourself to plenty of fun this summer and welcome the autumn with a night at the Curiosity Carousel held in the ultimate fun and crafty venue of Drink Shop Do?

The Meaning of Play

Small-Cows

Imagine. We’re sat in a field together on a fine summer’s day among friends and I ask you, “How do you play?”

If you find yourself bubbling with a myriad of answers and become increasingly excited just thinking and talking about play, then it’s likely you can play and want to play.

If you start reminiscing how much fun you used to have playing and wish for more play in your life now, then it’s likely you don’t currently play enough but definitely still want to play.

If, on the other hand, you become blocked and need a definitive definition of play before answering the question of “How do you play?”, then it’s possible that…

… You can play but some reason(s) you won’t play (otherwise you would have just started playing by making up answers in order to figure out the meaning of the word “play”).

… Or perhaps you can’t play and won’t play. “Can’t play” in this instance refers to the possibility that you’ve forgotten how to play or may be you never learned how to play in the first place. “Won’t play” means you are unwilling to play even if you knew how.

Play-QuadrantWhat’s do we mean by “play”?

Just as there are more than 70 definitions of intelligence, there are many definitions of play.

Dr Stuart Brown, play researcher and founder of the National Institute of Play defines play as:

  • Seemingly purposeless
  • Voluntary
  • Inherent attraction
  • Time flies by
  • Reduces sense of self-consciousness
  • Potential for improvisation
  • Desire to keep going

I’ve been testing Dr Brown’s definition and have discovered it resonates strongly with a key finding from my own play research: There is no one-size-fits-all definition of play.

After all, we’re individuals. That’s why it’s important we explore what play means to us. For ourselves. And in that exploration, we gain insights into our understanding of play and our relationship with play.

And if we play with our ideas of play for long enough, somewhere along the way, life-challenging and life-changing questions start to crop up such as “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?” and “What kind of person do I want to become?”

Over to you, My Friend. How do you play? Be you a Play Seeker or Play Skeptic, come along and join us to learn more about play!

The First Mini Play Adventure in the World

Picnic-Small

“You’re a what? A change agent? I thought you were joking when you said that’s what you do.”

And it does feel like a joke much of the time if I’m to be honest.

I met David last Saturday at a mini play adventure, the first event run by The School of Play. The moment I heard my soon-to-be friend David’s words I knew we were going to have lots of fun together.

And so it was that seven strangers met on a beautiful sunny afternoon at Milton Keynes Museum talking, playing and contemplating how we play and our multiple intelligences externalised through play.

I was delighted to discover that there are other adults who, like me, long to play more in their lives and are willing to pursue it wholeheartedly. And as we explored our ideas of play, amongst buttercups and concrete cows, an invisible thread appeared that connected our individual definitions of play.

It turns out one of the reasons adults want to play is because it helps us be authentic. And we want to be authentic because it feels good. Because it connects us with our true selves. Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown calls this “living wholeheartedly”, to show up and allow yourself to be seen. What our mini play adventure demonstrated was that to be authentic, we need a space that is safe and non-judgmental. The same condition necessary for true play.

Play for a Change

Creating The School of Play has been a long-time dream of mine, promoting happier adulthood through lifelong play. Having spent the past 15 years being paid to play as a change agent in large corporations (from airlines to biscuit manufacturing to financial institutions), one of the most effective and efficient ways I’ve found that keeps me going and growing is to play our way through change.

Making Play History

If we wish to change the world, we need to first change ourselves. I hope you’ll join us at the next mini play adventure on Saturday, 25 June, at the historical and beautiful setting of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. What better way to transform into our better selves than through play in the company of friends? Hooray!

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Life Without Play

Pop quiz

What’s the opposite of play? Many of us would say work. Now imagine a world where there no movies, no music, no jokes, no fantasy… What’s the opposite of play?

According to Dr Stuart Brown, an expert on play, it’s DEPRESSION.

Watch this interactive presentation (preferably with friends and colleagues to maximise the chances of more play together), inspired by the theory and experience of play where we’ll demonstrate why play isn’t just essential for creativity and innovation, but crucial to our survival and overall well-being.

We’ll begin with the definition of play and then investigate the relationship of work and play and demonstrate how, instead of being mutually exclusive, both are necessary for personal and group creativity and achievement. We’ll finish off with useful guidelines for bringing more play into your life. And if you play your cards right, you’ll get plenty of ideas to achieve your recommended daily amount of play!