All Work and No Play Makes Jack Slightly Less Innovative

B. Shimmin
B. Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • The consumerization of IT, Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn, bring-your-own-device: What do these uber-trends have in common?  They shake up the status quo by placing the employee at the center of the universe, bringing them together and merging their personal and professional personas.
  • This progression toward a people-first workplace has greatly influenced enterprise social networking platforms, making them more ‘humanized,’ but that is not enough.  True innovation needs free experimentation and exploration; in other words, a state of play.

In the late 90s, the extent of play within the enterprise was limited to ‘Windows shopping’ for the perfect Windows 95 desktop background color, e-mailing an ASCII art visage of Jerry Garcia, or perhaps even holding an after-hours Doom session on the company’s 10 Mbps Ethernet LAN.  Since then, of course, we’ve had ‘the internets’ to entertain, at least for organizations allowing free and full access to those climes.  However, trolling the Twittosphere in search of fleeting pop-memes is not actually play and does not actually make you any smarter, more productive, or even more informed.  That only happens when we play.

According to noted author Dr. Stuart Brown, the act of bringing true play into the workplace allows us to break free of deeply entrenched patterns of behavior, to create a state of mind where we are able to solve problems more rapidly, pass time more enjoyably, and discover unique opportunities.  Interestingly, there’s an app for that, at least for some aspects such as discovery and learning.  Most enterprise social networking platforms employ very advanced analytical tools to meet the same ends. With a few exceptions, however, these platforms are not about play.  They are about creating connections and discovering the value from the resulting interactions.  Play itself comes from people.

If your enterprise has successfully embraced concepts such as the consumerization of IT, brought Facebook into the enterprise, allowed personal devices to hold mission-critical data, or explored the use of game mechanics to speed employee onboarding, then perhaps your organization is ready for real play.  Doing so will require software (a place to play), but more importantly, it will require a top-down, organized alteration of your corporate personality.  First, you’ll need a starting point, an enterprise social network platform such as Jive Engage, Google+, or IBM Connections.  This is the school playground, if you will, complete with monkey bars, swings, basketball hoops, etc.  All that’s missing then are the children and a few watchful, supportive teachers equipped with helpful guidelines but willing to allow the unexpected.  What would that look like in the real world?  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1.Create group spaces where there are no ramifications or expectations other than participation.  An ideation tool is a perfect example of this notion in action.

2.Make use of tools that foster belonging.  The ‘like/comment’ button may sound silly or trivial, but it encourages productive banter because it begins from a position of acceptance and support.

3.Encourage idiosyncrasy.  Allow employees the freedom to create a personal profile that does not strictly conform to corporate norms. 

4.Schedule frivolity.  Organize giveaways, contests, and other innocuously combative games where there is nothing more at stake than bragging rights.

Such skillful means, when used in conjunction with a strong enterprise social networking platform, can take your company well beyond basic employee optimization and into the realm of true corporate transformation with a more nimble, resilient, and contented workforce.  Of course, Doom tournaments are optional.

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