The Value of Ah-So-Ko (Play at Work)

When was the last time you laughed out loud at work over something spontaneously fun?

Do you and your colleagues ever pause to do something that does not necessarily have a practical purpose? Have you ever thought about elevating your employee’s productivity, satisfaction, and engagement by encouraging them to play?

A few weeks ago a colleague came to visit and over dinner we reminisced and laughed out loud at some of the spontaneous activities that routinely happened at our former workplace. We started playing an old favorite, Ah-So-Ko (“an ancient samurai game—Google it!) which involves nothing more than passing a message around a circle in a series of silly hand and voice expressions. Within mere seconds, the four of us were cracking up at the silliness of our faces—our hearts lifted from a busy week, suddenly feeling joy.

Similarly, on a corporate leadership experience last summer, a participant spontaneously took a colleague’s hat and gloves and jumped into a quick shuck and jive parody about “leading from the heart” that had us all laughing at how seriously we were taking the content at hand. We lightened up inside and out as we could see ourselves humanely and somewhat frivolously—warm inside, bright faces, sparkling eyes, and connection.

Despite extensive evidence that the presence of play helps all of us live richer lives, create better ideas, connect with people more profoundly, reduce stress, and learn, most businesses today actively seem to drive frivolity and, in fact, fun, out of their work environments.

Sure, Google and Facebook are rumored to have amazingly creative workspaces and active ways for employees to take breaks and play together, most companies today not only undervalue, but often miss all together, the amazing benefits play can bring their employees.

In particular, spontaneous, seemingly frivolous actions that are playful in nature or elicit laughter and joy, enrich how we work. It is my belief that employers could spend less time and money orchestrating fancy corporate events (sales retreats, holiday parties, and company picnics) and instead should invest in ways to empower employees (especially managers) at every level to model play more and better.

Moments of play can, and in fact should, be fleeting and imperfect: a spontaneous song for a group tackling a hard task; an unexpected art project play together; a waffle cart in the morning with sprinkles and whip cream; line dancing lessons once a month. It matters less what the activity or play is, than the fact of it.

Stop analyzing and get playing. Laugh out loud. Do something silly. Dress up. Challenge someone to a thumb-wrestling match. Draw. Dance. Play croquet in the summer. Read poetry aloud to your team. The moments you play at work add up to unexpected magic in the form of employee connection, joy, energy, motivation and pleasure. All of which make people’s lives better, and, by the way are also good for business.

“Play matters as a way of expression, as a way of engaging with the world – not as an activity of consumption, but as an activity of production. Like literature, art, song and dance; like politics and love and math, play is a way of engaging and expressing our being in the world.”

-Miguel Sicart is Associate Professor at the Center for Computer Game Research at IT University Copenhagen

To learn more about the value of play at work, check out this article, and watch this video

Jim Morris