Sabre Tooth Panda® uses play, coaching, and mindfulness as the three core techniques of our work. While coaching is broadly well understood among business leaders, and mindfulness is quickly gaining credibility, play might benefit from a little more explanation. 

What do we mean by play?

This is not as straight forward a question as it might at first appear. Play is a bundle of fascinating contradictions. Play is a word that covers everything from the make believe of children to the improvisational performances of trained professional actors. Play includes hitting a ball against a wall and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). Play is serious and silly, competitive and co-operative. 

In Homo Ludens Johan Huizinga argues that play has five essential elements:

1. Play is free, is in fact freedom.
2. Play is not "ordinary" or "real" life.
3. Play is distinct from "ordinary" life both as to locality and duration.
4. Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.
5. Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.

When you consider these elements play can be said to include everything from the friendly banter of a group of work mates to ancient rituals that take place in temples around the world.

What, then, makes play a powerful tool that we use alongside the more generally established tools of coaching and mindfulness?

Looking deeply at these five elements it becomes clear that what play produces is an altered state of reality, a simulation that is very real to the player but, at the same time, not really real. This alternative space, this play space, allows the freedom to experiment and learn in an environment that is free of consequences. In a state of play humans are open to learning, barriers come down and new possibilities can be imagined. 

What does this mean in practice?

Our games include the now tried and tested No Wrong Answers quiz, games adapted from improvisational theatre, word games, team games, creative games using materials, and various games that challenge the player by altering the normal rules of work. 

But the exact form they take is secondary. What matters is that we can use these play scenarios to highlight and make visible various sometimes difficult to isolate elements of behaviour. By then reflecting on and sharing the new awareness we can affect real change driven by direct experience instead of the conceptual knowledge that traditional training methods are frequently limited to. 

Play is freedom

Play may be a method for us to help our clients but that does not mean that playfulness is not an end in and of itself. When you can bring playfulness to your work and your life you will be creative. When it's hard to tell where play ends and work begins it is inevitable that creativity is present. So for all this high mindedness about play, and while we maintain that play is far more important than our culture presently treats it, don't be afraid just to be playful. Humans are never more human than when we play.