in Work and Play
Relevance of Play
The story still haunts Darell Hammond. In 1995, shortly after moving to Washington, D.C., he read a news story about two children who suffocated to death while playing in an abandoned car. As it turned out, the kids didn't have anywhere else to play. It wasn't only that the two children died trying to enjoy the simplest of childhood pleasures that disturbed Hammond. What was equally as disturbing was his belief that the tragedy could have been prevented.
To say the story was a life-changing moment for the 24-year-old transplant from Illinois might be the mother of all understatements. On that day, Hammond made a promise to the memory of those young boys and to himself: This would never happen again on his watch.
His goal was simple: Prevent future tragedies, provide children a great place to play and bring communities together with a common goal. Hammond helped build his first community playground in the Washington, D.C., area (before they would fall under the umbrella of his soon- to-be started company, KaBOOM!) in southeast D.C.'s Livingston Manor in 1995. He later founded KaBOOM!, which officially opened in 1996.
Since then, KaBOOM! has raised more than $200 million, rallied 1 million-plus volunteers and guided the hands-on construction of more than 2,000 playgrounds. But, perhaps more than anything, it has inspired a movement for our right to play. "Play is learning, and learning is play," Hammond says. "It's not a coincidence that some of the best educational systems in the world are ones that have adopted playful curriculums. You learn in the classroom, and then you go outside in the fresh air to let off steam. And then you go back and learn some more. Those 50 minutes that you're outside playing make you more appreciative of the learning process."
Hammond says more experts are discovering this concept as well. "We know play is important for kids. Research tells us that play is critical to helping children develop socially, emotionally, academically and physically, and that there is a stark correlation between the lack of play and childhood obesity. In neighbourhoods without a park or playground, the incidence of childhood obesity increases 29 percent. Without ample play, we'll continue to see a decrease in creativity and imagination, as well as vital skills, including curiosity, social skills, resiliency and the ability to assess risk."
A 'Whole New' Mindset
When it comes to play, Darell Hammond will reference author Daniel Pink and vice versa. Hammond references some of the theories Pink lays out in his bestselling book, "A Whole New Mind," as an example of what play means to our culture today. Pink doesn't believe that schools produce imaginative innovators capable of offsetting the three great trends of automation of routine manufacturing tasks; the abundant proliferation of goods and changing demands in the marketplace; and outsourcing of labor to Asia.
One of Pink's most telling analyses is how "right brain" skills such as drawing/design, music and storytelling must be developed to give today's children ample opportunity to compete with other world cultures. He also describes how the Armed Forces employ game-based learning to attract new recruits and to train helicopter pilots via simulators.
"There is a time to be serious, but too much sobriety can be bad for your career and worse for your general well-being," Pink says. "In the Conceptual Age, in work and in life, we all need to play. I don't consider my job to be 'work,' as I enjoy it. I can 'work' for hours on school stuff and not even realize how much time has gone by, because I love it."
The lack of play in our lives is having a major impact on all of us by stifling our creativity and connections. That's why being playful is a mindset that great marketers must embrace. Today's marketers realize that people identify with playful brands and understand that games provide enriching experiences. Combining a playful mindset and the experience of play can elevate any brand.
As thought leaders like Daniel Pink stress in their analyses, play is the new way to think. Through play, we use our imaginations to become involved. Today's technologically pressured world can have the opposite effect. Too many people are becoming drone-like and losing their sense of identity or uniqueness. Play allows us to engage our brains and bodies to connect with the world around us. In turn, a marketer's greatest accomplishment is when people identify so strongly with a brand that they define themselves by it. That type of playful mindset has never been more relevant to marketers.