Playing at Work: Organizational Play as a Facilitator of Creativity

University dissertation from Department of Psychology, Lund University

Abstract: This thesis investigates how play may benefit creativity in organizational contexts. Play and playfulness have previously been linked to creativity in children and adults, but empirical organizational research is scarce. A widely accepted definition of creativity is that it involves the production of something that is both novel and appropriate. Play is defined as a behavioral approach that is characterized by play being: voluntary, fun, frivolous, imaginative, and in some way bound by structure or rules. An important distinguishing feature of play is that it is frivolous, which means that play is done just for fun and no other results or outcomes are expected. The first study was an exploration of how play is used by organizational consultants to promote creativity, how play was thought to enhance creativity, as well as how play is encouraged in organizational contexts. The results suggested that play promotes organizational creativity via the mediating factors openness, intrinsic motivation, and the collaborative relationships needed to co-create and innovate. The investigation also identified a number of encouragers and discouragers of organizational play. Playful contextual cues and explicit permission to play are examples of encouragers, while imposed play activities and a stressful work environment are examples of discouragers. The second study explored the effect of playful cues introduced during a scheduled workplace meeting versus a control condition receiving a conventional refreshments. The findings suggested that playful cues are a promising means by which to enhance the creative climate and playfulness in workplace meetings. The findings furthermore indicated that introducing play-cues does not risk meeting productivity. The third study investigated the impact of an intervention of playful improvisational theater on organizational creativity. Organizational teams participated in a play intervention that consisted of three workshops of playful improvisational theater. Compared with the control condition receiving no intervention, the intervention group reported an increase of workplace playfulness and scored higher on post-test measures of individual and group creativity. The combined results of these three studies support previously proposed creativity enhancing effects of organizational play. The implications for organizations wishing to enhance creativity and innovation are that fostering a climate of playfulness may be a means of stimulating organizational creativity.