A blog for leaders: PLAY does not belong in the workplace

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Play is experimentation, learning, interaction. Wherever creativity flourishes, play is in progress

John Yokoyama, owner of World Famous Pike Place Fish, says that most of their success has come because they 'play'. Not surprisingly, many people are drawn to the fun part of play. When we see the fishmongers having fun, we are entertained. Their playfulness does not harmonize with the way many companies operate. People crave for fun. It's part of being human.

But what employees want is exactly what many companies fear most. They misunderstand the meaning of cordiality and oppose play. Just the thought of fun and play scares companies.

What is play?

If you think in the direction of learning, experimenting or interaction, then it makes sense. Wherever creativity flourishes, play is in progress. We all learn as we did when we were kids - by playing with ideas. We learn by ignoring the idea that we are limited - we open our eyes.

What is productive play?

The throwing in FISH! is productive play. It is said that at one point the fishmongers left the counter and moved out in front of it, to take orders. Then they went back behind the counter with the fish to wrap it up and enter the amount into the cash register. One day they were particularly playful, and one threw a salmon over the counter to a colleague. Heureka! A high speed delivery system was invented.

We need a bigger workplace

How can you encourage play? Wholeheartednes naturally arises in an atmosphere of mutual trust. Freedom or permission on the one hand and accountability on the other. We experienced this at Aspen Skiing Company. Once they had seen FISH!, the employees wanted to use play to create more memorable experiences for their guests. The employees wanted to know the size of the 'playground'. How far could they go. 'I set out with a relatively narrow playground.' - the director told us. To that, employees said, 'No, we need a bigger playground - expanded rules, room for big arm movements, more confidence.'

Try by force

Together, they created an environment that was fun and inspiring. People play in their way. Some play quietly. Other dont play at all. We have heard of companies that used FISH! to make employees smile more. They forced the employees to play. And of course it did not work.

There are natural limits for play

If you use all four FISH! principles together, one naturally finds the boundaries. If you tell jokes that offend others, then you are not being present. If you play in a way that confuses and excludes others, then you do not make them happy. But when play takes place in interaction with BE THERE, MAKE THEIR DAY and CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE, then it is well-chosen, satisfying and productive.


The throwing scenes in FISH! is entertaining. Therefore, some would think that play is only about throwing. 'There are millions of different ways to play' - says J.P. 'But it does not have to be about throwing fish.' Play is a condition. It's more than just fun. It is an invitation to cordiality.

The blog was written by Michael Meinhardt, LEADERS WAREHOUSE.


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