Work is Play and Play is Work …allegedly

Screenshot 2019-07-09 at 22.54.08We inched forward in a surreptitious phalanx. Every time the teacher turned her back to write on the blackboard we advanced. At the noise of a hundred desk legs scraping on the class room floor she suddenly spun around and glared. We were mesmerised (it was half the reason we did it ) because she’d be staring not at us but …at the ceiling.  In her rich Welsh preacher’s voice she’d intone: “I knooow you’re up to something boys… so STOP IT!”
“No, we’re not miss”
“Nothing going on here, miss”
“Not me…”
“This is a such an interesting class, miss”
There’d be a silent stand off for as long as Mrs. Smith felt that we or she could bear. Her attention was on us but her eyes were beseaching higher powers to contain her fury. Then she’d turn her attention from the ceiling back to the blackboard.
Immediately we’d shuffle the desks forward another foot. She’d swivel round once more. She’d raise her voice and we’d again swear innocence. Our eyes interrogated each other  and the ceiling for the clues that only she could see there, and then once more Mrs. Smith would turn her back to scribble geometry on the board. And each time, of course, we shifted onward.  Soon we were all in one half of the room,  like tanks surrounding an enemy position. There was no point to it, we just wanted to play instead of working.
Without turning she exploded her full powered panto voice at the blackboard. It bounced back at us,  rebounded back off the walls and the sound filled the room. “BOYS!”, said the voice of God., “Playtime is after the bell. Sooo right now…..stoooop PLAYING!”
“Yes, miss”
 “Sorry, miss”
“Won’t happen again, miss”
That would be the first half of the class. In the second half we’d retreat in the same manner to the back of the room and one by one remove ourselves and our desks into the corridor.
School days were simple; there was play and there was work and the difference was as plain as night and day. Play was what you wanted to do. Work was was what the teachers wanted you to do. When the school day ended there was more play but you could do so with a good conscience only after you’d done your homework.
Then one shocking day you grow up and discover you have bills to pay and in order to settle them you need money so you go to work. And then someone invents the Internet so that even when you get home people are still asking you to do work.  And with a heavy heart you realise you will in fact work until robots take your job and you can’t get any work and then things will be even worse.
WRONG!  Work is Play. And Play is Work.  This is the hopeful message contained in this month’s book of sage advice (which I have playfully read for this column).  To be playful is almost a prerequisite for being succesful in work it argues, especially I suppose, if your definition of success includes enjoyment. Defintitions are important.
To turn their manifesto for playful work into an argument and indeed a business book the authors deliver a sophisticated definition of playful. Playful work is underpinned and made real by four “noble behaviours”: Grace, Craft, Fortitude and Ambition. Each of these requires their own definition. Which may sound dry but actually it isn’t and this is because the authors choose to make their case through telling terrific stories of scores of successful men and women. It is in the telling of the stories that this book itself is richest and is most entertaining.
From the near shooting of the soon-to-be German Kaiser by Wild Bill Hicock’s circus sidekick prior to World War 1 to the surprising back story of Josef Schumpeter, the lesser known stars of Bletchley Park and Thomas Heatherwick’s triumph at the Shanghai Expo 2010 this book has a terrific supply of entertainment and thus met its own sine qua non to be at the very least, playful.
Only the dreadful-sounding morning team dance sessions at IDEO made my eyes rise towards the ceiling.
I read: The Playful Entrepreneur
by: Mark Dodgson & David M. Gann