Play at Work

This article was written by Vadivu Govind and published on 7 August 2011 at


You don’t get the best ideas in front of the PC!”

I just lit up when Angela Koch of Invitro Innovation said this. It certainly looks like we’re productive when we sit for long hours in front of the computer. I used to think so and feel guilty when I was away from my computer till I started getting great ideas when I was away traveling/reading/relaxing/walking etc. You could call it play time because it certainly doesn’t look like work! We need a paradigm shift to identify where magic happens for work.

Angela is an innovation consultant and this is what we spoke about. We often think play is the opposite of work, Angela says, when in fact, they go together. We also leave play behind in childhood when play is necessary, she says. Here are some highlights from our chat….

Why is play important at work?

Angela believes that play is linked with the ability to be creative and innovate. Angela says some companies are “engineered for misery”, for robots which have no emotion or creativity; where relationships don’t flourish.

What kind of culture allows for play? One with trust. People feel diminished when they are watched over closely and “put on a short leash” and managers are quick to point out when they have made mistakes. Companies that get it right treat each employee as an individual.

In play-restricting and trust-lacking cultures, no stars are born, according to Angela. People don’t often go beyond the call of duty.

A Question for Leaders by Angela – Is my company helping people be the best they can be? Or are we working against people?

What does play at work look like? How can one practise it? Here are some tips from Angela…

–        How do you relate to others during breaks? Jokes and banter help relax people. You have a choice in how you interact with people.

–        Use lunch-breaks to restore and bring balance back.  If you’ve had a busy morning, you could have some peace and tranquility during lunch.  If you’ve had a quiet morning, why not jazz it up during lunch? Connect more with people.

–        Use the Creative Whack Pack (I love this too!) which is available as cards and also as an app.  Innovation tools says, “The Creative Whack Pack is still the most impressive brainstorming tool in the AppStore, hands down.”

Experiment with Lego as a brainstorming and creativity tool. Angela recommends it as a prototyping tool as well. Here’s an example of how it’s used in the workplace.

–        Introduce some randomness by rolling dice for certain activities.

–        Have an inspiration wall/whiteboard at the office for people to share inspiring ideas. She introduced me to IdeaPaint – interesting..and environmentally-friendly…

–        Allow for people to be silly and for distractions (when you can). Angela says:“Detours may get you to your destination faster!” Sometimes in very outcome-oriented settings, there’s little room for deviation.

How do you practise this idea of play at work?

Angela shared this photo of an inspirational wall she’s created at her workspace. She doodles on it, puts up inspiring ideas, allows visitors to draw on it etc.

Interactive Chalk wall at Invitro

What resources do you recommend?

TED talk by Tim Brown

“Beyond Love and Work: Why Adults Need to Play” by Lenore Terr.

Inspiring offices designed for play:

10 seeeeeriosly cool workplaces – tons of great pictures to give you ideas

Innovation firm, IDEO’s office

Scrabble inspired bench

Thanks to Angela for sharing her ideas with me!

PS: I love Angela’s idea of using lunch-breaks to restore balance. So if you’ve had a noisy morning, a quiet and restorative break could help. My personal tip is that if there’s a park or place of workship near your office, why not step in for a while and sit and enjoy the peace or say a prayer. It could really shift the rest of the day to new heights.

PPS: IdeaPaint is sold in Singapore by Prospec Surfaces.  Alan Lee – (65)-67777 888 ext.29