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The FUNdamentals of Incorporating Play Into Work

Carrie von Rosen | Jun. 03, 2014

Everyone knows the adage about Jack having no time to play and, thus, becoming less than sharp-witted. Yet, have you ever thought about how this saying might apply to your organization? "Work" and "play" are not mutually exclusive. In fact, work and play are nearly identical in both effort and action, with the exception of one key characteristic: fun.

Play = Work + Fun
So, what exactly is this magical thing called "fun," which has the power to transform a job into a joy?

As a noun, an adjective and even a verb, this little dynamo of a word is about as all-purpose as they come, but its usefulness doesn’t stop there. These three letters have a far-reaching and immediate impact on the intrinsic desirability of whatever they are associated with. And, this agile concept can be applied throughout your organization, at every level.

Pop Quiz: As a customer, would you prefer to purchase practical product "A," or would you rather buy fun product "B"?

Answer: Most would choose fun product "B," and no one even knows what it is!

But, what exactly is it about fun that we, as humans, find so universally appealing?

Mary Poppins: Musical Nanny or Behavioral Mastermind?
"A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." These indelible words have long been held as a truth regarding human behavior, illustrating that something pleasant can make something unpleasant more tolerable. More recently, scientific data coming from premier research institutions, like the University of Southern California, has not only validated this concept but also unlocked the biological mechanics at work behind the scenes of Mary Poppins’ enlightened, albeit musical, metaphor.

These studies have shown that the neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for the sensation we know as fun. The amount of dopamine released during a given activity or interaction directly correlates to how fun it is—indeed, a spoonful of dopamine, makes anything seem fun. Interestingly, results have also shown that dopamine is responsible for other feel-good, rewarding sensations, like love and even addiction.1

Use the Power for Better
Because of these potentially intense biochemical reactions, fun can function as a strong motivator and gateway for externally controlling behavior. It was with that idea in mind that Volkswagen introduced The Fun Theory, an initiative designed to challenge people to use fun to encourage social change for the better.2

The objective of one such project, which was called Piano Staircase, was to see if pedestrians could be enticed to choose the stairs over an escalator by making the stairs more fun. As the project’s name implies, the staircase was converted into an electronic keyboard, with each step emitting a unique tone when stepped on—like a giant piano key. After installation, overwhelmingly, more people chose to take the stairs, sometimes even travelling up and down, back and forth multiple times to pick out tunes, take pictures, shoot video and interact with their companions and the staircase itself.

Push Play
Play is an effective tool to get the work done…and have fun at the same time. Whether your “product” is a tangible item or a service you provide, a pinch of fun in the mix can impart a sense of intelligence and encourage fresh ideas. Using this concept in your workplace can strengthen relationships, enhance the overall appeal of your brand and keep customers coming back for more. In other words: Find the fun and you will find your better.

Ready to have some fun? Start a conversation and share your ideas for incorporating fun into your organization.

[1] Victorial Sadaat, "The Dopamine High: From Social Networking to Survival," USCience Review, University of Southern California, posted Aug. 21, 2012, retrieved April 21, 2014.
[2] thefuntheory.com, an initiative of Volswagen, retrieved April 21, 2014.

Carrie von Rosen

Carrie von Rosen

Carrie has over 20 years of hands-on creative problem solving, psycho-behavioral modification, and community engagement experience to assist clients in finding their better.