The Transforming Power of Play

What if there was a way to turn things you dread into games?

Former philosophy professor Antanas Mockus had an intriguing and wildly successful idea to do just that when he was elected Mayor of Bogota, Columbia, in 1995. One of the problems he had to tackle was the city’s chaotic and dangerous traffic. A large majority of traffic police officers were corrupt and inefficient. So Mockus came up with a unique and playful idea. He hired mime artists, who had painted faces and were dressed up. Those mimes would stand at intersections and on streets mocking bad behavior and praising good behavior from pedestrians and drivers. As Mockus writes, “The idea was that instead of cops handing out tickets and pocketing fines, these performers would ‘police’ drivers’ behavior by communicating with mime — for instance, pretending to be hurt or offended when a vehicle ignored the pedestrian right of way in a crosswalk.” During his tenure, traffic fatalities dropped by over 50 percent. The program was so successful that Mockus ended up firing 3,200 traffic cops. The hundreds of traffic officers that remained were trained as mimes.

Play, in this case, was more effective than punishments and threats. Play makes hard work easier and lighter. Play breed creative ideas and solutions and enhances learning.  The time when we have to do the most heavy lifting, the most work to improve, is childhood. We have to learn everything from scratch, to smile, to move, to turn, to crawl, to chew, to walk, to talk, to write —  and only within a few years. This would be way to hard for most of us if it wasn’t for play. Play lifts the gravity of those tasks and allows us to float while learning. Play is what turns tedious repetition into a fun, “Let’s do it again!”

In my team building workshops I notice a huge difference when people start to shift towards play. Their shoulders drop, they move with more ease and are less intimidated about making mistakes. They are engaged in the activity and not blocked by the concern about the outcome.

Why not use play to lift the weight of our should-dos and our ambitious goals as adults as well? What can be playful, creative alternatives to reach your goals at work and and for yourself?


Play is more than just fun.  Play is creative exploration which is a prerequisite for innovation. Let’s play!

“The truth is that play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allow a complex brain to create itself.” — Stuart Brown


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