The Power of Play
Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Mike Alsford
In a world where deadlines, bottomline figures and the constant pressure to perform is King, how do we find time to address the importance of mental health in the work place?
We caught up with Lego’s Senior Global Social Media Manager; James Poulter, during his recent visit to Exeter, to talk creativity, mindfulness and the power of play.
Thanks so much for taking some time out of your day. I know you have just a short time before heading back to London, so let’s jump straight in and talk playfulness in the workplace. Lego is one of the most successful brands in the world; as a company, it’s a global success that has stood the test of time. With mental health being such an important and hot topic right now, what I’d really like to know is how Lego, as an employer, is addressing this area on a day to day basis.
The mental health aspect of our working lives, is always fascinating. I’m not a scientist or practitioner in that area, but what I do know is that we are, increasingly, seeing businesses, schools and the healthcare industry, looking for ways and means to introduce mindfulness, and yes playfulness, into their environments, not least because it increases all sorts of mental faculties within us, that often get overlooked and lost when we leave childhood.
Most of us get taught, in schools, to explore our creativity and to try to push boundaries and ‘fail fast’; a phrase that’s rampant amongst the silicon valley techs. This idea of playful learning is something at Lego, that we’re really passionate about.
We’re working with businesses and schools, to think about how they train kids in their local areas, through a scheme called Play Agent; a programme which will be released next year in a bigger form. It’s something that we do internally at Lego, where we train our staff on how to use Lego bricks, through playful exercises, to help unlock creativity in one another.
That whole idea of play is something that we are really desperate for in business, because we just get trained out of it.
We either need to find things that we get creative satisfaction from; play, or we need to manage our own mental faculties in order to be able to deal with anxiety (from corporate pressures)
That’s why we’ve seen such a rise in the return to meditative practices & mindfulness.
So is Lego, as a global corporation, seeing that too?
Inside Lego we try and adopt our own playfulness and creativity where we can. We have an annual thing called Playday; a new initiative which was started last year, by the founding family of the company, to adopt playfulness right throughout the business. Everyone takes a day off to play, learn more about the product and just have a good day of fun; it’s important to remind ourselves what the kids want from our product.
And then we spend a lot of time, from a corporate perspective, doing things that can sometimes get called out as being ‘millennial fluff’; wants not needs. We have a meditation room in the office and regular massage spots that you can book into you. It’s not just for sorting out the problems that sitting down all day causes, it’s also a moment in the week to take 20 mins out and just actually de-stress and reflect.
Is there much take up on that?
There’s a huge take up! You’d be hard pressed to get a space; there’s definitely a trend towards that. It’ll take a while, though, before broader corporate culture accepts that these things are necessary.
If you look at the great work being done by companies like Calm and HeadSpace, who are trying to really bring mindfulness into the digital age; they’re doing great work to make sure we don’t all fall over with fatigue and anxiety.
Take myself, I’ve had a number of cases over the past couple of years, when I’ve been completely burnt out and made myself ill. There are so many pressures on us; work life, family life, all the other things that you’re being told by society to pursue.
So what did you do to put it right?
I realised I had to take time out. I’d got mid way through the year and I’d not had more than 2 days consecutively off; that’s just not natural. It’s not the way we’ve been built to operate. Acknowledging the seasons and the environment and trying to remind myself that actually, every few months, I need that time to let my brain digest and recuperate. And realising that it’s not a sign of weakness to do that. It’s also not a sign of giving up.
The value of rest and time to reflect is super important.
The other thing I’ve come back to, and seen a lot of my friends start, is the idea of journaling and just kind of getting stuff out of your head. If you look at the course of our life and the amount of information that we have taken into our brains, on a daily basis, it’s important to get that stuff back out. Journalling is one of the most ancient practices that we can possibly go back to.
I’m personally working my way through The Mind Journal which was set up by a guy who’s helping men, in particular, to engage with journaling. That’s kind of ironic given that men were the ones who started journalling, way back when.
Men, in particular, find it difficult to engage with that because it is seen by some as a sign of, weakness. The opposite it true; it’s actually it’s a sign of strength. It’s also one of the biggest catalysts for idea generation and I’ll often spend time journaling in the morning.
Is that when you’re most creative?
I know that if I’ve got a creative task to tackle, the first 90 mins of the day is when I’m most likely to do that.
Flexible working hours, like we have at Lego, allow you to do that stuff, because it means I can get up, get my daughter out of bed and then I can work from home for the first hour or two, because that’s when I’m most creative.
So rather than being sat on a cramped commuter train getting stressed, I’ll get into the office when it’s less busy & less stressed. I’ll get my meetings done and then I’m out by 4pm. I can then work at home, because after my daughter is in bed and I’ve had some time to chill, my brain becomes active again and I can work some more.
It’s about listening to your body, listening to your mind and identifying those practices. And that’s not an easy thing to do; it takes time, it takes practice to do that.
But don’t you find that once you’ve got those practices in place, they’re difficult to get away from; anything else feels wrong.
Absolutely. And gratitude; that’s something else we need to do. One of the things Tony Robbins, does, every day, is go and find three things that he’s thankful for.
But all of these things take practice; the more you work at them, the easier they get.
It all comes to down to creating positive, daily, habits then.
It does and developing those positive habits too. It’s one of those things that we all could do better at.
I personally find that all of these practices are so incredibly powerful. It really doesn’t take long before you start missing them if you stop.
Positive habit building is one of those crucial things that we need to live. I find it no coincidence that, in the same time period that the internet has connected us all and we’re on information overload, there’s been a rise and return to some of these practices.
If you’re going to have one of these (iPhone) constantly connected to you, the practice of downloading and looking after your mental health can’t really be an option; it has to be a priority. It’s like filling up the water jug until it overflows. You have to pour something back out or everyone suffers. What you have to do is avoid getting to that point where everything spills out over the table. It’s better to pour it out into something that everyone will benefit from.
Follow James @jamespoulter