Rediscovering Recess: The Power of Play

The Power of Play

Remember recess? An oasis in the middle of our school days, ten to twenty minutes of glorious, unstructured play time – time that we largely left behind as we matured, in favor of more serious, “sensible” pursuits. How on earth did we ever let that happen? Because it turns out that play has genuine, positive impacts on our mind and on our wellbeing, even in adulthood. Today’s guest, Gary Ware, is the Founder of Breakthrough Play, an organization designed to help professionals use the power of play to become more creative, more confident, and to develop deeper relationships with their teams and their clients. Here, he explains:

  • What constitutes "play"
  • Dr. Stuart Brown's seven archetypes of play
  • The benefits of play, to individuals and to organizations; and
  • How to encourage a playful spirit in your employees and yourself!

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The Definition Of “Play”

  • Play is doing something that brings you joy for the sake of doing it.
  • As adults, we can get very serious about things that may seem like play.
    • Going to the gym is a great example. While it fits the bill of the physical nature of play, many people do not actually enjoy going to the gym.
  • “Play” will vary person to person. 
    • Mr. Ware cites a book by Dr. Stuart Brown that categorizes the nature of “play” for each person into archetypes. 
      • Joker: Your form of play includes things like practical jokes and causing mischief.
      • Explorer: Your form of play is discovering new places to visit and travel to.
      • Competitor: This type of person loves sets of specific rules and they enjoy playing to win. 
      • Director: Your form of play is to organize and put on events.
      • Storyteller: Your form of play is to tell stories and get lost in fantasy; Things like improv and acting fall under this category.
      • Collector: Your form of play is gathering interesting things.
      • Artist/Creator: Your form of play is to make things.
    • All of these different archetypes differ from one another, but each type still enjoys doing that task.
    • Each person normally has a dominant one or two archetypes throughout their life, but no one archetype is permanent. 
  • The enjoyment that comes from participating in these tasks is the first step to understanding and utilizing the power of play.


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The Power Of Play For Children

  • Up until age 12-13, everything kids do is through play.
  • Learning and connection commonly takes place through play for children. The more a child plays, the more they will develop and show their true personality.
  • Kids will learn responsibilities, motor skills, social cues, and much more playing games and partaking in other play activities while growing up.

Why Don’t We Play As Adults?

  • Society has a big effect on why as adults, we stray away from unstructured play.
    • Just like animals, humans retain juvenile traits and interests through adulthood, but animals still play in adulthood.
    • Humans do not continue to play into adulthood nearly as much because play can show signs of vulnerability and it can be seen through a very finite lens of something that is juvenile. 
  • Even though there are positive physical and psychological effects of play, as adults we tend to avoid it simply because it no longer becomes a priority.

The Benefits Of Play

  • The power of play is more than just the physical act of playing, it is the positive psychological effects it can have on a person. 
    • It can help people connect on a deeper level, reduce stress, be more productive, generate more ideas, appear more attractive, improve resiliency, and even develop strong leadership skills.

The Power Of Play In The Workplace

  • Play should be an important factor in the workplace because it helps people  understand ambiguity, to be more curious, and to be more open, resilient, and empathetic. It can also support optimism, and improve rapport between parties.
  • Basically, all of the “soft skills” play can teach are skills that improve the team dynamic of a workplace (employer-employee, employee-employee, employee-client, or even employer-employee-client).
  • Play requires people to think on their feet due to the uncertain nature of the outcome of whatever game or activity is being played. 
  • If a company is looking to accelerate growth in their employees, play is a fantastic way to do that.

How To Encourage Play For Your Employees

  • Encouraging play in the workplace is all about making purposeful play a priority. 
  • Encourage play by having an outcome in mind and incorporating playful elements along the way to achieving that outcome.
  • A great example in our current remote work landscape is to begin virtual meetings with some element of fun and connection to begin the meeting.
    • An example given by Mr. Ware is “Unfortunately, Fortunately”. He describes this as a game where participants go around and describe something that happened to them that was not so great and one thing that happened to them that was great. This helps prioritize connection and can lead to a high level of retention among meeting participants, leading to greater levels of productivity and achievement for all! 
  • The true power of play can only be recognized through many small incremental instances/events.
    • Just as one visit to the gym or trainer isn't going to get someone in great shape, one instance of play for employees is not going to allow for the full potential of play to be seen.
  • Adding an element of play into key inflection points in the work day/week (similar to recess during the school day as a child), can actually help employees to stay engaged and productive throughout the day while providing a short-yet-fun space from work 

What Is The Cost Of Play?

  • An interesting way to look at the cost of play is: “what is the cost of NOT incorporating play?”
    • Employee turnover costs can often be as much as double the former employee’s salary.
    • Keeping employees engaged and happy in their job is a main goal of incorporating play into the work day, which in turn will reduce things like turnover. 
  • On the low end, it can cost absolutely nothing to be intentional about play and incorporate little games and conversations into meetings.
  • On the high end, companies can bring in consultancies and other activities to allow employees to speak about things other than work and engage in fun activities.
    • Even though this may have a cost associated with it, it is very common for the ROI to be incredibly high. 

Selling The Power Of Play To Management

  • In the United States, it can sometimes be difficult to see play as a necessity.
    • In society, it is very common to hear people discuss how busy they are and little time they have for other things, but this is often at the cost of productivity.
    • While many people may think that they do not have time for things like play, it could actually make those uber-busy people even more productive to take a break and play every once and a while. 
  • Play must be modeled from the top down.
    • People will only participate and see it as acceptable to participate if they see others doing it, especially superiors. 
  • Play reduces stress and can have a massively positive impact on not only employees, but management as well. 

Off-The-Clock Play

  • Mr. Ware suggests that we all remember something we did for fun prior to the age of 13 or so. Remembering and utilizing those elements of play into our everyday lives is what will allow us to regain that sense of joy that we had as children.
  • Finding activities that make you happy and can be a quick, yet passionate distraction from everyday life and work are healthy and will improve psychological health and productivity when it is time to come back to work. 
  • It can be difficult to get into the habit of play, but it doesn’t need to be.
    • Just the same as developing any other new habits/routines, old habits/routines will likely always take priority. 
    • We must set ourselves up for success, and the first step to this is scheduling time for play - whether that play is new or not.
      • Start with 5/10 minutes and build upon that as that time becomes more habitual. 

The Power Of Play During The Pandemic

  • When you go through play-deprivation, you can experience anxiety, mood swings, and a whole host of other negative thoughts.
  • Considering the environment we have had over the past year plus, we have gone through immense amounts of stress. This is why the power of play has become so evident and important.
  • Play can be the antidote to all the stressors and negative thoughts the pandemic brought.

Breakthrough Play

  • Breakthrough Play is in the business of creating breakthrough players. 
    • In a sports setting, “breakthrough players” are the ones people are most excited to watch and are the best at playing their sport.
    • Breakthrough Play looks to make each and every one of us a breakthrough player via purposeful play and applied improvisation. 
  • Through various workshops, Mr. Ware will create different games that allow your team to have fun but also make mistakes while doing so. This builds rapport between team members and allows for creative solutions to be found to solve problems, which will translate directly to the workplace. 

Gary Ware Background

  • BS in Music & Computer Science from San Diego State University
  • BS in Interactive Media Design from The Art Institute of California-Los Angeles
  • Mr. Ware has an extensive background in digital marketing and has worked for numerous companies building their marketing efforts in creative ways.
  • He is an Improv Performer and Instructor in the San Diego, CA area.
  • He is the Founder of Breakthrough Play, a company that helps creative professionals in sales and marketing to use the power of play to be more creative, confident, and develop deeper relationships with their team and clients. 


Gary Ware’s email:

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