My LinkedIn Monday Play column:
It's good to explore the ins and outs of play theory again.
I know this is a personal, even nerdish pursuit. To know a little bit about how many different disciplines and knowledges play sits at the intersection of, is to be endlessly compelled and fascinated. Literally, so many rabbit holes to disappear into!
But I also know that understanding play has direct consequences for my work as a speaker and consultant around creativity and innovation. It is the taproot of all that - a surge to invention and exploration that is about an inexhaustible as a human resource gets.
And more and more, it seems to me that play's relation to our evolved and adapted biological natures is the crucial thing to try and understand.
So many great minds as routes to that - Marc Bekoff, Melvin Konner, Vivien and Sergio Pellis, Jane Goodall, Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Piven, Stuart Brown, Patrick Bateson... And such a great journey to embark upon with them all, as an element of my next book Radical Animal.
But if any of you are looking for a somewhat off-tangent primer to this whole field, I can heartily recommend something I picked up from the Karnac bookshop in London's Finchley Road: The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Play: Brain-Building Interventions For Emotional Well-Being by Theresa A. Kestly.
Kestly is a play therapist. But she turned to the neurobiology of play in order to give educators and parents intellectual and scientific confidence in her interventions - which comprises of being with, and responding to, kids as they expressively played with sandboxes, clay, and lego.
Theresa's great focus is the way that neurobiology reminds us of how primal, and pre-cognitive, the operations of our brains are - particularly around those seven great emotional systems for survival that Jaak Panksepp is making claims for: Rage, Fear, Lust, Care, Panic/Grief, Play and Seeking.
It's a whole other blog to explain those... but the essential point is that, in dealing with other people, we should appreciate that these deep, evolved processes are going on within them (and us) no matter what our clear, rational brains are deciding to discourse about.
Play is just as primal as the rest of them - and as part of our essential equipment as complex mammals, it will bubble up as it needs to. Indeed, in its role as a kind of theatre in which we can handle and test the tricky relations between our higher thoughts and our lower drives, it can easily be seen as vital to our wellbeing.
For those of us interested in changing and dynamizing communities and organisations, the truth of Kestly's book fits into a bigger set of questions.
Could we sustain creativity and innovation programs better, by understanding the exact nature of the deep needs that play answers?
Rather than sweeping people up into abstracted, branded visions of a "new way of doing things", could we plan situations where playful seeking becomes as unforced and natural as the need for exercise, or teamwork, or mutual supportiveness?
The sensitivities and gentleness of the play therapy room is far distant, of course, from a world of organisations with accountabilities, bottom-lines and contractual duties. Yet not so far distant, if we think for a minute of the pathologies that often course through our offices and halls...
Great to be on this journey of ideas again. All comments, as ever, most welcome.