I remember when I was young and I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling and compete with my brother for who could make a continuous noise come out of our mouths. We would do this for hours and hours… and it wasn’t just once, we did this over and over, year after year. We thought it was so much fun to compete with each other on this important quality of making noises that we would see how quiet the noises could be (we tried loud once but got in trouble). It was a lot of fun though and one of the memories of my childhood that I cherish.
Now as a father, the only time I think of meaningless play it relates to my kids. We make up songs together that make no sense at all and come up with silly stories and imaginary characters. Now as they get older this too is diminishing and the costumes that they once dawned daily are put away. Somehow society or me as a father have trained them to shun these playful behaviors in search of things that are more grown up. I know that I certainly have shunned play for the sake of playing. I couldn’t imagine laying in my bed on Saturday morning for two hours going aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh.
So why is play no longer a factor of my life and why is it that now spending hours playing with my voice means I have to “Meditate”? I had been thinking this was a little screwed up as I started to get caught up in the measurement craze that everyone is into. Fitbit to measure your steps, food trackers, gamification of everything, if there wasn’t being measured before a startup was being built to create a tool to measure it in the future and as the statistics emerged monitization strategies naturally have to occur (or else these startups couldn’t be real companies). That means that there are loads of smart people out there trying to convince me that everything in my life needs to be measured (just so that they can monetize it)… No one is building me a tool to measure every aspect of my life because it reduces my stress or makes me feel any better about myself.
More recently I started to give up all the measurements…. My favorite runs are those where I have the least amount of stuff, it always stumps my wife when I come home and she asks how far or fast I ran and I kind of grumble and say “Uh, I think I went somewhere around 8-12 miles. Along the way I saw a bird so ran with it for a while, then I noticed a new path and ran down it to see where it went, so I don’t really know”. The difference though is that my runs are much more enjoyable and I find that I am motivated to do them more often – because they are PURE FUN. I am only running for the fun of it. Granted I do have a few goals that I’ll get to – I want to ditch the Vibrams and get to barefoot for some runs, I want to run my age every year, and I want to run 10 miles in an hour. Simple enough goal eh? Other than that though, I just want to have fun and allow myself the time to reflect and consolidate my thoughts and emotions.
As I’ve started to make this shift personally, I came across this great presentation by JWIntelligence and found that it rung true for me. Every major decision I have made in the last five years has been while I was out running for fun… (while I was playing). Now that I have gotten out of the damn measurement fad in running I am back to writing!! Oh god am I writing, here on the blog, getting closer on my novel, and getting closer on my ESPP eBook (I should have some of that content up on the blog soon as well). I guess the point is that the research here is pretty sound and if you don’t play – I mean you personally let go and just play (not necessarily with your kids) you won’t be able to demonstrate the same worldly curiosity that you did as a child. If you are trading/investing you won’t find the same creative trades, you will continue to struggle with the emotions of being short (btw, I am currently short and in the hole $CRM), and you will continue to struggle with conviction against the financial media and blogosphere. If you are a startuper – you will have it worse, you will struggle with competing with the wrong people, with going after singular monetization strategies when many other (maybe better options are out there).
My point is… and I think this is the point you will also derive from JWIntelligence’s research, that play and playing with other people for the pure purpose of fun is beneficial to your ability to perform at a high level. It helps you think better, helps you control your emotions, and helps you work with others better. If you are on a key team of people (e.g. small startup or hedge fund) – playing together will help you as a team work together if you are all doing it for fun (and not because someone mandated it). Don’t bring fucking Nerf guns to work and call it play – I hate Nerf guns. I would rather work with a group of people who went for runs at lunch time together – THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!! Alas the point is to have fun and perhaps this natural benefit of having fun is why when I go and bing making noises and repetive noises all I get is a bunch of people meditating (and something about autism).
Play as a Competitive Advantage (July 2012)
and yes, that first sentence was inspired by the late ODB (RIP)…