More Experimentation and Play

Accountability Organizational culture Resilience


Key Point: As part of building resilient and adaptive cultures we need to make more room for experimentation and play. This seems contradictory to the way many of us have been raised at work. It just seemed like the other day that we were learning new organization principles mostly driven by understanding total quality and lean manufacturing systems. (30-year-old ideas, btw). And the lessons associated with running organizations with these principles in mind still do have a place. However, that way of thinking exclusively has to give way to much more experimentation and play. Companies have to be more like laboratories than factories.

Recently, I spoke at a conference focusing on navigating the future. I talked about the eight cultural ingredients that I use as a framework to build a more abundant and adaptive company. The two speakers that I shared the podium with however, presented insights that made me really think. The two factors emphasized: Experimentation and Play.

Dr. Steve Shepard has written numerous books on technology and cultural adaption. He travels the world and is a leader in helping developing communities embrace technology to advance their cultures and circumstances. His principles are based on providing conditions for “tribal” self accountability, respect and abundance. The villagers he works with learn and apply technology to what deeply matters to them, rather than what outsiders think best. Underlying those values are experimentation and play. When he and his team make tablet computers available (e.g a MIT labs product that costs less than $100 USD,) and connects them to the internet, the village kids seem to intuitively and fearlessly Experiment and Play, most often getting the technology up and running within a day. Yup… Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, the works. More importantly, they rapidly begin to experiment finding ways to make their village more prosperous; (for example, e-commerce for local artisans and much more). As Steve storytells beautifully: “These are also places where technology brings competitive advantage, but it also brings economic growth, transparent government, access to healthcare and education, and perhaps most important of all, hope.”

The other speaker was (Top 40 under 40) Shawn Kanungo, a Digital Innovation guru with Deloitte. He challenged me to think more about play and experimentation than purpose. Kanungo and team Deloitte were asked to help a large organization develop a strategy on how to build a culture of innovation and collaboration. Through ethnographic research, interviews, workshops and mining through data, they analyzed the organization through different lenses: “We discovered that – more than anything else – employees craved the freedom to play, to experiment and to learn. And, when it came down to human motivation, the most surprising fact was that ‘Play’ was MORE important than the organization’s ‘Purpose.’ In Lindsay McGregor & Neel Doshi’s awesome book, Primed to Perform, after surveying over 20,000 workers around the world, analyzing 50 major companies, conducting scores of experiments, and scouring the landscape of academic research in a range of disciplines, they concluded that ‘Play’ is the most powerful motivator – twice as potent as purpose and almost three times more than potential.”

I know enough about the importance of purpose to understand that paying attention to Experimentation and Play is more of an “AND” rather than “OR.” However, these innovators inspired me to learn much more about these concepts.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Let’s challenge ourselves to learn more about translating Experimentation and Play into the workforce. How do we define and apply these concepts? I know I certainly will investigate and even “Experiment and Play” in doing so.
  2. I do believe that “sameness” has a short shelf-life these days. “Old” ideas like “benchmarking” and “best practices” may set us up for failure. Constant Experimentation and Play may make us way more fluid, adaptive and transformative.

Experimentation and Play in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: Now that we have the ability to use free tools like YouTube to teach us how to do pretty much anything, we’re often in a state of “Experiment and Play” just learning or figuring out DIY projects. I believe Millennials appreciate as much autonomy as possible, and if we can “Experiment and Play” our way to achieve better results, we don’t need the lesson of “best practices” for anything more than just a starting guideline.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis