The Era of Play: Tapping Into Your Fun, Creative Genius

By Roberto Ramos, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Communications at the Doneger Group
February 21, 2017

It's a familiar image on my commute: an endless portrait of individuals like you and me escaping their toiling routine by losing themselves in the colorful pixilation of Candy Crush and its brethren activities.

We are filling up our lives with play. We crave it in all forms: the sugary array of commuter games, the vocabulary challenges of the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles, as well as in the warmly satisfying games of lore such as Legos and coloring books, both of which have made powerful comebacks in response to our hyper-digitized lives.

Play is big business. It's because it serves as the perfect antidote to our modern experience. It's a relief from stressful work emails, all the hyphenated roles we play, and the noisy and alarming state of politics and global affairs. We want to tune out and revert to a time when everything was fun.

Play has taken other modern dimensions that make it cool for adults to embrace. This began with the popularity of videogames and coding in the eighties and nineties, ushering a new generation of creative and entrepreneurial leaders that favored a more playful approach towards innovation.

Playfulness' spontaneous, relaxed, collaborative approach has become de rigueur to unlock transformative creative and business ideas. It's successful as it removes a layer of formality and the fear of getting things wrong. Modern strategic play is a softer yet perhaps more powerful take on traditional game theory that focused on how we react and thrive in competitive environments. In this more playful approach, it's more about having the best idea and building the best team through iterative fun and working to bring those ideas to life in disruptive, delightful ways.

We see the rise of playfulness innovation everywhere as companies like Google and Facebook have become the reference points for what modern work lifestyle looks like. We also see this influence in the adoption of fun, open work spaces and work policies that encourage employees to take risks and take time off to explore creative and entrepreneurial activities.

The most important part of Play in innovation is a game-inspired approach that encourages quick thought processes, collaborative brainstorming, and quick prototyping with iterative learning and expressions. In this game-like approach, failure is not an end result; it's simply part of the fun and the learning. We also see play increasingly in ways in which we work together, with the advent of fun, collaborative platforms such as Yammer and Slack.

And Play continues to be a huge force in the consumer industry, beyond the traditional toys. Many videogames for instance, make more money than most traditional film blockbusters. Play-driven experiences are also creating new industries and brands. It's giving new life to the active sports category with fun communal competitive/friendly activities such as Tough Mudder and Soul Cycle becoming modern tribes, or through entertainment spaces such as Topgolf, which delivers a full retail entertainment experience anchored on the sport.

Gaming also has the power to reinvigorate retail, creating more inspiring experiences that include: fun, personalized delivery of product recommendations; gamification-anchored ways to present the thrill of the hunt, think coupons meet Pokémon Go; and immersive ways of trying on a product, such as social-friendly fitting rooms to get the feedback of your friends and family or to brag about your most recent purchase.

Play's take on simplicity and friendliness is weaving a web of fun around all of our user experiences: from computer and mobile interfaces that make you smile, to more conversational packaging and branding, to more creative experiential offerings that make learning, exploration and self-expression more fun and personalized than ever before.

So what are you doing to become a more powerful, playful being and professional? Here are some thought starters.

  • Get out of your routine; try to do a couple of different things weekly.
  • Explore and perfect a different hobby, especially in an area outside your comfort zone.
  • Tap into your inner writer and actor to do a bit of game playing as you map out situations. What would you do in someone else's shoes?
  • Map out narratives and interject a bit of humor? Take a stab at a short story.
  • Sign up for an improvisation class
  • Revisit some games from your childhood, play them, teach them to your kids, and channel some of that carefree bygone era
  • If you're a brand, explore all the current ways in which your brand acts unnecessarily serious or complicated. Explore how you would make it fun

The modern era is waking up to the power of fun. It's a much-needed antidote in the concurrent era of noise. So find a way of tapping into that inner child and that energy, which is contagious and can help you inspire buddies to make great things with you. Here is to having fun. Now, share with us some of the ways in which have smart fun.