Tag Archives: innovation

Playing with children, adults and Michael Gove: An interview with Patrick Bateson

Patrick Bateson recently published his book “Play, Playfulness, Creativity & Innovaton”, a scientifc approach to understand how these are connected. Here’s an article of an interview from Dana Smith with Bateson.

Brain Study

I’ve got a new piece up today on King’s Review of an interview I conducted with Cambridge professor of ethology Sir Patrick Bateson. Professor Bateson has a fascinating new book on the benefits of play and playfulness, and how these traits can help us develop creativity, innovation and flexible thinking.

I discuss the book with Professor Bateson, as well as branching into the effects reforms in education are having on our brains and behaviors, and how too much school may actually be harming children today.

And finally, the question everyone’s been wondering, do those ping-pong tables in new-age offices really offer any sort of benefits? Read the article to find out!

Playing with children, adults and Michael Gove: An interview with Patrick Bateson.

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Creating a Culture of Innovation using the Power of Play

LTP-logo-2Most companies and organizations know that in this fast changing and complex world, they have to create a culture of innovation to be able to sustain a healthy business.  A lot of time and effort is spent on creating new strategies, business models, structure, processes, technologies, tools, and reward systems, hoping that these will lead to success. Unfortunately, ‘invisible forces’ are responsible for the fact that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail.

The trick? According to Soren Kaplan, expert on innovation; “Design the interplay between the company’s explicit strategies with the ways people actually relate to one another and to the organization.”

Licence to Play is an innovative concept that identifies and engages your (5-10%)cultural change talents to make the needed  difference from within, using the power of play. Why Play?

Playfulness is something that we all are born with, it’s in our nature to play. Play is the fastest way to create the ‘soft stuff’ that drives innovation; openness, connectedness, collaboration, creativity & learning by doing.

Unfortunately Play is also something that people fear to express in their serious workingenvironment. Therefore I developed the concept ‘Licence to Play’ that allows people in organizations to open up, be playful and facilitate their co-workers to do the same. They literally get a ‘Licence to Play’, signed by the company director. With this licence they will be assigned to perform (secret) play missions and facilitate powerful playful learning games on relevant topics.

Are you ready to PLAY?

Here’s your secret Play Mission: http://youtu.be/Y0uWLHy-yo0

With Playful greetings,

Annemarie Steen

Creating Open & Collaborative Cultures through Play

worrySince 2004 IBM conducts every two years a Global CEO Survey among global business and public sector leaders to research what keeps them busy (at night in bed). The survey consists of in-person interviews with (in 2012) over 1700 CEO’s worldwide.

More than half of all CEO’s see Human Capital, Customer Relationships and Innovation as key sources of sustained economic value (report 2012).

The findings (2010 & 2012) show a fast growing need for some critical capabilities of employees, in order to deal with the complexity of operating in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world. These include; creativity and creative leadership, collaborativeness, connectedness, communication and flexibility.

To foster these capabilities “CEO’s are creating more Open & Collaborative cultures – encouraging employees to connect, learn from each other and thrive in a world of rapid change. The emphasis on Openness is even higher among Outperforming organizations(*) – and they have the changemanagement-capabilities to make it happen.” (2012)

So where does Play fit into this?

To create a more Open, Collaborative & Innovative culture, it’s vital that people make the shift from their serious closed mode into their open mode. And the fastest way to get people into their open mode is through humor, laughter and fun, all essential parts of Playfulness. As John Cleese tells his students in this lecture; “The essence of Playfulness is openness to anything”.

Playfulness & Fear don’t go together well. You cannot be playful if you’re frightened of making a mistake, or of being ridiculed by others. So, in creating Openness through Play, creating a safe learningenvironment is essential. I also have my participants acknowledge their fear first before inviting them to play.

What I love most about my work as a Playful Learning facilitator, is when I see the magic power of Playfulness do her work. People take the step out of their comfortzone into their (natural born) Playzone and amazingly fast make the shift towards openness, connectedness, joy, spontaneity and creativity.

I see Play as a vital ingredient in creating and nurturing a 21st century succesful Company Culture. And I’m very curious to hear your opinions about this…

Playfully yours,

Annemarie Steen

(*) Outperfomers are organizations that surpass industry peers in terms of  revenue growth and profitability.

Interested in the findings & reports?

2010: http://public.dhe.ibm.com/common/ssi/ecm/en/gbe03297usen/GBE03297USEN.PDF

2012: http://www.brandchannel.com/images/papers/536_IBMGlobalCEOs.PDF

I’m afraid, but I’m gonna do it anyway…UHM!


In my work as a facilitator of playful learning(*), I meet a lot of different people. The ones that are enthusiastic from the start and willing to try everything immediately. The ones that are a little shy and hesitant, but after some reassurance they will try, and the ones that say NO from the start. I notice a lot of limiting believes about being playful that’s holding them back. Recognize any of these? Playfulness is childish, ít’s crazy, it’s ok in sports, but not in business, etc.

Getting the benefits and learninginsights from Playful Learning is not something you can learn from a book. It’s an experience. So therefore it’s vital that I get my participants to leave their comfortzone and join the exercises. And from my experience, 99% of my participants do…and respond with high energy and powerful learninginsights.

So how do I do it? Here are some strategies I use.

First it is important that the participants get the WHY of Playfulness.

So, I often start with explaining the difference between left and right brain functions. I show them that succesful businesses nowadays are using their creative right brain capacities to innovate, to use design, storytelling, play, empathy and meaning.  Then I ask them to leave their logical, analytical left brain quiet for a while and invite them on an experiential journey to experience their right brain.

right left brain

If the group is very leftbrain orientated (technical people), I sometimes use Steve Jobs’ “Stay Hungry, stay Foolish” or quotes from Einstein.

After the introduction of the WHY Playfulness is important, I tell them that it’s natural to feel fear. Doing something out of the ordinary is ‘out of comfortzone’. Sometimes I share a story from my personal experience with an experiment that I conducted on a busstation at 7.00 am in the morning. I handed out 80 free blowing bubble sets to waiting travellers. A lot of them reacted with fear.

In order to deal with the fear, I often show my participants this video. In this clip you see that fear is causing you to take a step back. The way how to deal with the fear, is to reverse this initial tendency and take a step forward.

Finally, I teach the participants a mantra: I’m afraid, but I’m gonna do it anyway…UHM (with the UHM we all take the necesary step forward). It creates fun and commitment, and as soon as someone is holding back, I can refer to the ‘I’m afraid’ mantra and invite them to do it anyway.


And then we start seriously playing and learning 🙂

With Playful greetings,

Annemarie Steen

(*) In the Netherlands www.steentrain.nl, International with www.ha-p.com

Branding Fun; The rise of Playfulness at work

Proud of my first international published article that I wrote for www.sparksheet.com an international online magazine with thinkpieces about media & marketing.

Branding Fun: The Rise of Playfulness at Work

2012/06/11     ·     Annemarie Steen ·     Responses (58)

We’re used to seeing work and play as opposites. But adding a little playfulness to the workplace makes for more creative employees and more attractive brands, explains Dutch creative consultant Annemarie Steen.

An indoor bike lane at a Google office in the Netherlands. Image via Google.

Here in the Netherlands I see a lot of companies struggling with the question of how to maintain a stable and successful brand in a time of crisis. The old-school way of thinking is to look for every opportunity to cut costs, and at the same time direct attention to maintaining or growing existing business.

Most of the time this results in working harder, instead of working smarter, and feelings of fear and insecurity leading to bad decision-making.

For instance, many brands are cutting costs on fun team-building activities because they’re seen as cost centres. But adding playfulness to the corporate culture is vital for doing business successfully, especially in these difficult times.

Look at companies who are doing very well, such as Coca-Cola, Zappos, Google, Virgin and Southwest Airlines. What they have in common is a strong focus on a positive company culture that makes room for freedom, creativity and the well-being of their employees. And this clearly rubs off on the outside world in the form of healthy profits and loyal customers.

Playfulness inside and out

You have probably seen the videos of the Coca-Cola Happiness Factory or the Hug Me vending machine, because playfulness has a way of going viral. But adding playfulness to your marketing strategy without incorporating the value of playfulness into your culture won’t get you very far.

Zappos staff boasting their threads on “Ugly Holiday Sweater Day” at Zappos headquarters.

As Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, writes in his book, Delivering Happiness, “You have to build a culture first, then your brand and profits will follow.” Indeed, one of Zappo’s 10 core values is “to create fun and a little weirdness.” They even have a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer).

Having fun is also something Southwest Airlines is famous for. You can check out the airline’s rapping flight attendants and passenger toilet paper races on YouTube. When hiring, Southwest actively seeks out applicants with a sense of humour.

“Caring for customers starts with caring for your own people,” explains President Emerita of Southwest Colleen Barrett in her book, Lead with LUV (co-written with Ken Blanchard). “What’s important is the fact that you’re honouring people and acknowledging that what they do makes a positive difference. In the process, you are making heroes out of them.”

Play and creativity

Children have a natural ability to play and have fun. It’s a very important tool for learning and connecting to those around us. But somewhere along the way to adulthood, we’re taught to be serious.

Southwest employees getting playful at a corporate event. Image via Southwest’s Facebook page.

Playfulness, fun and laughter are necessary antidotes to our daily stresses. Scientific research confirms that laughter relaxes the body, lowers our stress hormones, and increases the level of happy hormones like endorphins.

When we add fun and playfulness to our daily work, it stimulates our right brain, which is what enables us to be creative and see the big picture.

Creativity is what enables us to come up with innovative products, services and solutions that serve our customers and, ultimately, generate revenue.

It’s time for brands to stop seeing play as a time suck and start seeing it as a necessary ingredient for success – not only in their marketing campaigns, but in building a creative and constructive culture from the inside out.

Want to play?