#79 - Playing At Work, With The Greatest Of All Time 🐐
As an Arsenal fan ⚽️, I hate to admit this, but Erling Haaland, the 23-year old Norwegian striker who plays for Manchester City, is one of the most electrifying and talented goal scorers the world has seen in decades.
Then there is Shohei Ohtani. If you haven't heard of him, my friends: it is time. Shohei is a Japanese baseball player who plays in the US for the Angels. ⚾️ He's technically a "pitcher" who takes the mound every 5 days like any other; but, he also bats in every game. And here's the crazy thing: he does both extremely well. The man is easily a top-3 pitcher, and a top-3 batter -- at the same time.
The most casual baseball observers will tell you that this is just...unheard of. Unseen. Unfathomable. Shohei's own peers will tell you, as they root around, flummoxed, for the right words to describe it: “Nobody does this."
Alas, I'm not writing about these athletes to increase sports IQ, or to alienate non-sports fans! I'm writing about them because the more I observe of them, the more struck I am by how, well...playful they both are. 🤾🏻♂️
They are two world-class competitors who perform at the very highest levels and dominate their respective sports. They are as driven and cutthroat as they are talented. (Ohtani struck out his own Angels teammate to beat the US and win the baseball World Baseball Championship for Japan this year).
But you watch these two, and you can't help but think that they're also just having fun.
Here is Shohei, sliding into second base, then disarming the second baseman, who can't help but break into a smile:
Here is Haaland, in the light blue jersey, sliding into a straight-up brawl. Seconds later though, he's grinning ear-to-ear:
Look, I get it, these men "play" sports for a living. But it goes beyond mere playfulness; when I compare them to hundreds of their more mortal peers (all of whose personas are now on social media display), I'm almost tempted to use the word..."goofy".
Then there's Leo Messi. Not someone I'd describe as "goofy". But back when the "G.O.A.T" 🐐 debate raged between him and Christian Ronaldo, I was always Team Messi. Not because of the stats or trophies, but because Messi just looked like he was having a good time on the pitch. His off-the-charts exploits were always infused with a tinge of wonder. His post-goal celebrations, by a sense of, "Did I just do that? I just did that! I just did that!".
Who knows then -- maybe there's something to this "play" thing? Even, yes, at work, where we're not "supposed" to play. Well, this week we challenge that idea. We ask you to "forsake man's wisdom for a child's". And we invite you to come and play for a bit:
🎯 Story #1 - Two inspiring and eye-opening books about play help situate it in the context of history, biology, civilization -- and what it means to be human. Once we do, we're able to challenge the idea that our work doesn't need to include at least some level of play. 🤔
🎯 Story #2 - A writer-entrepreneur with a huge tech following has an entire worldview predicated on the idea that we are all "playing games" -- and he uses it as the foundation of a set of fantastic career advice. We dig in.
🎯 Story #3- "Work is work", and "play is play" and never the twain shall meet -- right? Our last quote suggests that the language we use is preventing us from better weaving play into our work -- much to the detriment of both.
Thanks for reading, and playing, and have a fantastic week!
Aki + Usman
#Play@Work #WeAllNeedPlay #HumanNeedsAreWorkNeeds
Little did I know, as I started to burrow down the rabbit hole of "play" this week, that people have given the topic such serious thought. Two books, in particular, were chock full of insight, and completely upended my understanding of the concept in the best possible way. 🙌
The first -- "Play", by Stuart Brown -- is the source of the quote above, and establishes play as something we as humans are uniquely wired for; an elemental capacity that we have evolved over millions of years, and still need to nourish, even after childhood. Play makes us human -- and creative, and innovative (traits that organizations claim to crave, mind you):
And now that we appreciate this, we want to add play to our growing list of "fundamental human needs which don't suddenly go away when we get to work". A list of basic needs which most "work" often fails to provide for:
- Connection and belonging
Next up is "Homo Ludens" ("Man As Player"), widely acknowledged as the classic work on the topic, by Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga. If Brown's take is that play is fundamental -- and a biological and evolutionary imperative -- Huizinga would agree that it's elemental. But he argues this through a different lens: for Huizinga, play is a fundamental requirement of culture; one that has shaped our achievements in law, science, war, philosophy, the arts. You know, just the core of civilization as we know it. :)
Huizinga's book is dense and sprawling in scope. Its language, dated and clunky at times. In fairness, the thing was written in 1907, by an academic! But it has stood the test of time, and not just because of its profound insights, but because its language is often as stirring as it is clunky. For instance:
Johan Huizinga, folks! All about play -- but not messin' 'round! ✌️
Having made the case for play as a fundamental human instinct and need then, I hope you'll check out these other great quotes, and enjoy them as much as I did, before shimmying on to Story #2:
From Stuart Brown, and "Play":
Last, an exchange between the author and Bob Fagen, a scholar, and expert on animal play:
And from Huizinga and "Homo Ludens":
#Play@Work #PlayToMeWorkToYou #ExpertiseAsPlay
Naval Ravikant is an entrepreneur and investor who's takes on career and personal development have amassed him a huge of mostly Silicon Valley-based fans. One of his recurring themes is the concept of "playing games", which he uses as a metaphor for how we approach our careers and lives.
In the quote-graphic above, he asks, "What feels like play to you, but looks like work to others?"
Here is another quote, along the same lines, framed as a statement instead of a question:
Naval's point is that whenever you pursue something that aligns with your interests and strengths, it energizes you rather than drains you. So you're more likely to enjoy that pursuit and excel at it. In a work realm then, the quest becomes less about "enduring" a job and more about engaging in something you enjoy.
This notion of our lives and careers as actually "one big game" is a provocative -- and, we have to say, resonant -- idea. We had fun thinking about what feels like play to us, but might seem like work to others -- and hope you enjoy the prompt, too!
#Play@Work #FalseDichotomy #WorkVocab #MakeRoomForPlay
We love this bold call from writer Justin Mares for a new term to describe "work". And we could not agree more with him: we do need a new term for it. Or a new set of terms, perhaps?
As is, the word "work" is just not nuanced enough. It's dated, and insufficient.
Decades ago, in a world of manual agricultural and manufacturing jobs defined by routine, physical labor, and even danger, "work" might have sufficed. And to be clear: work remains physically hard and unenjoyable for hundreds of millions of people all over the world.
But for those privileged enough to work in a knowledge economy -- one defined more than ever by flexibility, variety and creativity -- it feels like our language is trapping us in a false dichotomy: "I am either working, which is not fun; or playing, which is fun". And the implication -- which is a powerful and harmful one -- is that work has to be hard, otherwise, it's not worth doing.
We'll pose a few questions then (and would LOVE to hear from you on any of them):
- The first relates to our overall theme: to what extent do you get to play, or weave fun and play, into your work?
- If we all need some form of play, and if play is a requirement of creativity and innovation, then as a leader in an organization, is part of our role not to make space for play? Is it not, even, to try and actively ensure that the work incorporates some element of play?
- Last, if the term for "work" hasn't kept up with the changes and content of today's work -- what do you recommend we use instead? 🙃
Reply to the email, and let us know what you think!
Thanks for reading. 🙏