Do you dare to play in organisational life?

Playfulness may contribute to innovation and transformational changes in organisations. Playing makes us more creative and happier. Several play forms may help give substance to playfulness in your organisation.

By Jaap Boonstra & Francisco Loscos


As a playful person, homo ludens shapes his own future in interaction with others. People who play, enjoy what they are doing. They feel that they have a grip on their lives, which makes them more agile in an environment that is ambiguous and uncertain.

In general, people with a playful attitude are more creative, happier, and healthier. Playfulness strengthens our adaptive skills and contributes to positive social relationships and greater self-awareness. Playfulness is combined with a positive and optimistic outlook, and an open view of the world.

In general, people with a playful attitude are more creative, happier, and healthier

Being playful is an attitude, and a way of facing life. People differ in the degree of playfulness they adopt in their way of thinking and behaviour. This difference has to do with education and personality.

Being playful

Stuart Brown describes various play forms that people use to give substance to playfulness:

The explorer is excited to discover new things. This can be done physically by visiting new places and leaving the comfort zone by reflecting on events, and learning about new themes; or emotionally, by being open to new feelings through meditation, and arts such as painting, dance, music, and literature. Explorers broaden their minds, which stimulates playfulness and inspires others.

The artist takes pleasure in producing something like paintings, sculptures, dance, or fashion, and in activities such as gardening, developing new working methods, and designing structures or new products. An artist likes to show their creations to the world. It is about creating something that is fascinating or impressive, and that touches on beauty.

Power of play
Related content: The power of play in organisational life

The inventor wants to find a solution to an existing problem, or create something new that makes life easier. The inventor plays with thoughts and materials, makes new combinations, designs new products, sees if something works, and how something can be made better, more useful, or more beautiful.

The collector takes pleasure in collecting interesting objects or experiences. Collectors often connect with like-minded people and exchange what they have discovered. They want to know how something works, they organise events, and find out what makes an object or experience attractive. They translate their experiences into new situations and contribute to innovations.

Active types are happiest when they move by walking, cycling, running, doing yoga, dancing, or swimming. They want to feel their bodies and explore their limits. They often form groups to motivate each other. They are not concerned with being the best, but with the activity that creates new energy and enables new thoughts to flow.

Many leaders do not play because they are burdened by responsibility and believe that leadership is a serious matter

Challengers enjoy competitive play and challenging others. They play with the ambition to be the best. It is not necessarily about winning and losing, but about the dynamics that unfold between the players and the fun you can enjoy together.

Directors enjoy inventing, performing scenes, and organising events. Directors bring others into the play, but are themselves the undisputed centre of creativity and organisational strength. They show their creativity by planning interesting experiences and bringing people with different qualities together.

Jokers play with sense and nonsense, and makes others laugh with new perspectives and unexpected quips. The court jester is the oldest form of joker and can playfully contradict prevailing views. The joker invites people to look at themselves and consider their habits, thus creating space to try something new.

Storytellers use imagination and know how to convert events and emotions into stories that invite you to look differently at what is happening. We find storytellers among authors of books, stage and film scripts, and creators of cartoons, films, and vlogs. Storytellers create an imaginative world and know how to touch, inspire, and make people think.


Playfulness is a common feature of the above roles. Players are intrinsically motivated and find opportunities to play everywhere. Through their activities they continue to develop, adapt, and improve. With their investigative and playful attitude, they continuously learn about themselves and the world around them. They always see opportunities to take the initiative and have fun.

Play children
Most adults see playing as something that children do, something that does not fit into the adult world (Photo: Andrea Leopardi/Unsplash)

It seems we are less willing to play as we get older, as if there is less room for playing when we are absorbed by work, career, health, caring for others, and social obligations.

Most adults see playing as something that children do, something that does not fit into the adult world. Many leaders do not play because they are burdened by responsibility and believe that leadership is a serious matter. But when we do not play and do not have fun, then, at some point, we must ask if we are still happy. It is helpful to ask what makes you really happy and what gives you energy. A follow-up question is how we can play more.

Experience of play theorists provides guidance on how to become homo ludens again and make room for fun, creativity, innovation and change.

A first step is to go back to the games you played when you were young, and the fun you had with them. Look back at what gave you energy and pleasure, what role you played, and what you felt with the people you played with.

This reflection helps with the question of what you can do to rediscover your playful self and allow it to enter your work and life. Then open up to humour and fun in the things you do. It helps if you realise that you do not always have to be serious. It is important that you show yourself as a playful player. Allow yourself the space to be playful and ignore the fear of being irresponsible and immature. Improvise with playful working methods, try things out and explore the effects. Find out for yourself what type of player you are, find others who encourage you to be playful, and look for opportunities to use your playful qualities. Playing is exploring new situations and pushing boundaries.

Remember that you do not have to be playful all the time. Find out for yourself when playfulness contributes to relaxation, creativity, and innovation in interaction with others. It is precisely in this collaborative play that we can shape change and innovation in a world that is ambiguous and dynamic.


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  • Hendricks, T.S. (2014). Play as self-realisation. Towards a general theory of play. American Journal of Play, 6, (2), 190-213
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  • Boonstra, J.J. (2018). Change as collaborative play. A positive view on changing and innovating organisations Amsterdam: Boom | Management Impact
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