Play! Play! Play! Play!

Normally, when you think of the work that you do, playing is the last thing that comes to mind. Yet it is so imperative that you find some way of making your work fun. In this installment, I’m going to talk about why working is so much better when you play, especially if you’re working around others.

Now chances are, if you have a job that puts you around a lot of people at any given time, you’ve got to look at act professionally. But there are times when the routine of doing your job with excellence can actually cause you to get stuck in a rut. Human beings really don’t like change all that much – we often go for the same type of things. Don’t believe me? When you go to your favorite restaurant, there’s usually a dish that you prefer to order over anything else. When you go to a movie theater or a church, you typically have a certain place where you’d like to sit. We don’t naturally go for something different, because familiarity brings with it a sense of comfort. In a way, it feels a little bit like home. That’s natural. But it also can breed stagnation. When you’re not pushed or challenged to try something different, your work can actually suffer and become less and less productive.

So changing things up a bit will help inject a little bit of life into what you do, and one of the easiest ways of changing things up is to find a way to play every day in your work. If you’re in a situation like a church volunteer or a DJ (both of which I do), you’re going to be around people, so not only are you playing, but you’re getting others to play with you. And you’d be surprised what people will do if you just ask.

First things first, though. You have to get over yourself. You have to set aside whatever notion you have about how you’ll appear to others so that you can really break loose. Many people we know on a professional level (or at least in a working environment) don’t ever truly let us into their world unless they start playing. It’s at that point their full personality comes out. I used to work with a woman that I thought was all professionalism, no goofing off at all, until one day before a meeting started, she was joking around with another one of our colleagues. I got to see a side of someone I hadn’t seen before, and I was actually interested in getting to know her better. I figured, if she can have fun at this job, I want to learn how (by the way, the job was telephone customer service).

Last year I helped teach the 4 basics of the CM Smile/Permanent Impact approach at my church with most of our service team members, and the following Sunday, one of our parking lot crew members began helping the ushers seat people in the auditorium, but she did it like she was parking cars. She had her bright yellow vest on with the flashlight wands, waving people in and down the rows. She had a ball with it, and it put smiles on the faces of many in attendance. To this day, people still remember that.

In the church office, I and the rest of the staff make it habit of celebrating people’s birthdays by getting everyone together to play a prank on that person. We covered one person’s entire workstation with aluminum foil, including her keyboard, mouse, chair, design manuals, even her jar of peanut butter; another person was doused with silly string by the whole office staff; another person was given her own beach-in-the-office – we had filled small disposable Styrofoam bowls with sand and spread them across every square inch of floor in her cubicle. For my birthday, they had contemplated coming into the bathroom while I was in the stall and singing “Happy Birthday” while I was finishing up . . . the timing didn’t work out, but I thought it would have been funny if they’d have been able to pull it off.

As a DJ, I find that playing is absolutely essential to doing a great job. Typically, people don’t hire a DJ unless they want to have a party of some kind, so I take that attitude with me into every show I do. I’ve never spoken to a client that said, “We really don’t want anyone to have a good time.” Can you imagine? So I and the other DJs I work with are all trained to practice the art of playing. We get out on the dance floor with the crowd, teaching the Cupid Shuffle and the Cha-Cha Slide. We build rapport with the guests as we take requests, joking with them and letting them know that we’re there to have as much fun as they are. We hold dance contests for people and give them chances to win prizes that really aren’t worth much of anything. We do whatever we can to go beyond the ordinary, because the ordinary is boring. Honestly, how many times have you been to a party and seen the DJ NEVER get out from behind the booth? And how boring is that?

When it comes down to it, the whole CM Smile/Permanent Impact approach can be summed up if you get this one aspect down really well. If you’re playing, chances are likely that you’ll already have arrived with a good attitude. If you’re playing, chances are likely that you’re there, in the moment. If you’re playing, chances are likely that you’re looking to make someone’s day a little bit more special. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of being able to loosen up, have some fun, laugh, and get others to join you.

I used to work as a professional improv comedian, and one of the games that we did in our improv show I introduced as an icebreaker game at Complete Music. It’s called Dance Craze. I ask for 3 or 4 volunteers, who come out and sit in chairs I have waiting on the dance floor. I then reveal that they’ll be competing in a dance contest against each other, but they won’t be dancing any traditional dance moves that have been given before. Instead, I go to the crowd and take suggestions, then give those suggestions to the contestants, who have to come up with a brand new dance, on the spot, based on that suggestion. For instance, I’ll ask for some sort of household appliance, and someone will shout “toaster”. I’ll give that to the next contestant, start the music, and that person will created a danced called “The Toaster.” It’s amazing to see what some people can come up with, and I get the audience involved by having them vote by applause for who they think created the best dance. And often, I’ll try and incorporate that winning dance move later in the evening. To be honest, there have been some times that I’ve seen people start doing those winning moves on their own.

I read an article by a computer technician who worked at a software firm, and he wrote that they have a motto in their office: “If someone looks like they’re having a bad day, throw something at them.” Lighten up, folks. Life is too short to take every little task that we do and bury our noses in it, grinding down until our souls are left on the wayside. We have to find ways to have a little fun every now and then. If we don’t we’ll lose the joy of our work and career, and if you’re already doing what you love, then you’ll get even MORE out of your efforts.

Be more, do more, expect more. Play more.

There Is No Box.