Creative Leadership Series Part 1: Leading Through Play

Posted on November 29, 2016

As our world becomes more complex, organisations are relying more and more on collaborative, embodied ways of doing and being together to identify creative solutions that enable firms to adapt and evolve. This first in a series of four blogs dedicated to Creative Leadership, explores the benefits of leveraging play to inspire and enhance creative leadership.

1. Play Develops Strategy-Associated Skill
The main benefits of incorporating games and play into organisational learning and development have traditionally been considered to be:

  • The development of strategy formulation skills.
  • The development of strategy execution skills.

Martin Reeves and Georg Wittenburg explore this finding in their article Games Can Make You a Better Strategist. They summarise the following points about games:

  • Provide inexpensive, real-time feedback
  • Allow managers to deeply engage with ideas by incorporating interactivity
  • Allow structured analysis of executive’s behaviour
  • Allow different scenarios to be tested

2. Play for Imaginative, Collective Learning
At Redwood&Co, we have experienced incorporating play and the use of games into organisational learning and development frameworks have benefits beyond strategy alone. These include: nurturing empathy, reducing stress and stimulating imaginative, collective learning. Studies by Dr Marie Hartwell-Walker on the benefits of play during childhood have shown that play is necessary for:

  • Healthy brain development.
  • Stimulation of the imagination.

Hartwell-Walker states the following benefits of play:

  • Provides stress relief
  • Stimulates imagination and creativity
  • Develops empathy
  • Develops the brain’s executive functions (time management, organisation)

So if encouraging play at a young age helps develop cognitive and emotional intelligence, why not apply the same learning and development approach to support the development of an organisation’s collective intelligence and creativity?

3. Play Connects the Brain and Body
Studies consistently show that we need to exercise our bodies in order to fully exercise our intellectual potential: the brain-body connection is much stronger than many people anticipate. The survival of early humans depended on their physical fitness, while today our daily lives are comparatively much more sedentary. When the brain and body are actively engaged in learning together, learning becomes ‘embodied.’

Margaret Chan and John Black of Teachers College, Columbia University have shown that
“physically manipulating an animation of a roller coaster helps students understand the workings of gravity and energy better than static onscreen images and text. Bodily rooted learning allows the learner to develop a “feel” for the concept being described, a physical sense that is more comprehensible and compelling than a concept that remains an abstract mental entity.”

At Redwood & Co we use play and games to connect the head, heart and hands of our clients, encouraging embodied learning. Hosting playful environments that leverage play to stimulate embodied learning is a critical component of creative leadership.

Play allows groups to imaginatively mix up concepts, tools, techniques, and bring the understandings gleaned down from the intellectual realm to an embodied appreciation for the nuances of the task being explored. Additionally, play brings fresh energy to problem-solving and ideation, providing ways to reframe and simplify complex issues.

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