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Business play-time

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Many major corporations are recognizing that “play” can be a critical component of a culture that encourages creativity and innovation in fast changing competitive markets. On the face of it, work and play seem opposite and incompatible. The dictionary defines play as, to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than for a serious or practical purpose.{{more}} Work on the other hand is a much more purposeful ends-oriented activity. But creativity often arises when you match means and ends in a surprising and unexpected way, rather than in an efficient and known way, and play can achieve this kind of matching according to researchers on Organizational Behaviour at London Business School.

People are usually cautious about coming up with ideas they think may sound silly, but a playful environment gives you and your team the permission, freedom and confidence to discover and share those necessary creative ideas and talents. The idea-generation process itself requires some playfulness. You have to constantly ask questions, break the rules, allow crazy thoughts to enter your head and shed your preconceptions. Only then can you truly create ideas which by definition are combinations of seemingly unrelated elements.

Many companies understand the importance of play as a diversion, but only a relatively small number of progressive companies truly embrace “play” as a core aspect of their work. In one company an engineer in one of its medical-products plant took advantage of “free time” to improve the gears of his mountain bike and as a result invented a new line of bike cables. And, noticing that guitar strings easily broke, he teamed up with colleagues one of whom was an amateur musician. They played together for five years in company time as well as in their own time. The result was a non-breakable guitar string and today the company controls 35% of the acoustic guitar strings market, a market they had not previously served. The researchers argue that in an environment of time-pressures and fixed rules, it is difficult for firms to support a five year exploration of a new product.

But play creates a temporary suspension of the daily corporate pressures providing a transitional space in which members of the organization can experiment. Play also provides space in which creative new ideas can be generated.

It is important to remember that creativity is not an end in itself. It has to be turned into innovation. To be successful, you not only have to generate new ideas, you have to carry out the risk analysis and the return on investment.

“Play” is a fundamental human function, an evolutionary endowment to humans that lasts from child hood to old age. Nothing comes more naturally to humans than the impulse to play. By changing the way we think and act, play keeps us flexible- this is the evolutionary value to play. It is nature’s path to creativity

While not directly exhibiting the essential elements of a “play” culture, family business in India is at the heart of its economy and plays a crucial role in directing its growth. Increased competition, the drive towards globalization and the need to inject new capital are factors forcing businesses to rapidly adapt by implementing best practice, improving corporate governance and focusing on enhanced productivity. AT the same time family businesses are being forced to restructure. These pressures raise leadership, governance and structuring issues. Bonding and open communication between family members are important to ensure success of the business. In a competitive environment it is important that objective tests are laid out to judge the performance of family members who are actively engaged in the business and that the family speaks through one voice to professionals employed in the business in order to reduce confusion and conflict. And a lesson to all of us is that family businesses should not bury succession issues but should plan for them, communicate and strive towards objective solutions. They should create a structured approach towards decision making within the family and make those engaged in running the business accountable to the family.