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Why we should all be playing at work

WE’RE thinking about work all wrong, it seems. In order to get more done we should be like kids and ‘play’ with our friends. DECEMBER 12, 201711:53AM

IT MIGHT take the circus to get us there, but it looks like we’re all heading towards play at work.

The Montreal founders of Cirque du Soleil have teamed up with a creative agency to push people into a new way of thinking at work.

It’s called C2, and it’s a business conference that will make you forget about the butcher’s paper. Think being dangled in the air rather than given Post-it notes, to make you think harder.

While it might be confronting for some people, the idea behind it is to push people out of their normal way of thinking, to a point where they’re surprised at what they come up with.

Within minutes of arriving at the conference in Melbourne earlier this month, an organiser had relieved me of my bag, phone and shoes and strapped me into a chair that was winched 6m above the ground. Sitting in a circle with four other participants, we grinned at each other like 6-year-olds with our feet dangling.

Our facilitator Jo spoke loudly to be heard over the hubbub below.

“What problem would you solve if you were 10 times bolder than you are?”

My hand shot up. “I want to eradicate the world of plastic bottles and bags,” I said, surprised at myself. “We’re killing our sea life and ingesting plastic.”

There followed a flurry of suggestions and examples of what people were already doing about this problem.

Another woman in our circle in the sky wanted to further integrate indigenous children into Australian society. A Canadian talked about how he’d helped do that with Indian tribes back home and an Irish woman shared how Protestant and Catholic kids were breaking down barriers in multi-faith schools.

Too soon our chairs were released and we were back on terra firma.

“What made you share so openly and immediately with strangers?” Jo asked.

“I think because we had no place to go or any distractions,” said one woman.

Next, I found myself making new friends at a swimming pool filled with plastic balls. Our facilitator Dean instructed us to throw a white ball to random participants in the circle of nine while saying their name. We had to remember this exact pattern and repeat it, getting faster and faster on each round.

While it might seem ridiculous, when we were given more complex tasks to add to this, it made us concentrate harder.

When we stopped we were bright-eyed with the type of intensity children have after playing a sport they love.

“How often do you experience that type of flow in your workplace?” Dean asked. “Mmm, hardly ever.”

“How could you get into flow at work? Pair up and brainstorm solutions.”

My partner used self-imposed deadlines to get his work done quickly rather than dragging it out. Someone else liked to isolate herself to focus. Others liked the busy background noise of a cafe or office. I, for one, can get into flow when I am being creative and don’t feel I’ll be penalised if I get the ‘wrong’ result.

At the end of the session we shared contact details and jumped backwards in the pool just for fun.

There were other brainstorming labs in clouds filled with mist and discussions held in blacked-out rooms.

I spoke to participants about their experiences at the end of the day. We were energised and impressed with how the activities had encouraged creativity and we’d quickly forged new business connections.

According to C2 chief operating officer Martin Enault, the unique environment is deliberately designed to trigger imagination and joyful memories of childhood and magic.

“It actually creates meaningful play and an open mindset,” Enault says. “That’s what businesses need to survive in this exciting new era of disruption.”

C2 Melbourne will run for three days from October 17-19, 2018.

Theresa Miller is a freelance journalist and was a guest of C2Melbourne.

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