The present of work as play
The present is a gift from time. Like other gifts that we receive, it is to be treasured and valued. However, one major difference between the present and other gifts is that we only have a moment to treasure it. Before we know it, it slips from our grasp and vanishes. It is no easy task to live in the moment and make the best use of the present. Philosophers through the ages have closely looked at this phenomenon and tried to understand it. One of the concepts which has emerged is the concept of the Eternal Now.
To put it simply, the Eternal Now means that the present moment stretches till infinity. One moment blends into another to start a domino effect of sorts where the only thing that you experience is the present. This is a special feeling and is difficult to put into words. The trouble is that we are so used to looking at time in terms of the past, present and future that it is difficult to wrap our heads around the fact that the present goes back to the beginning of time and stretches up till eternity.
It would be interesting if the present were to be looked at in these terms when children are young. At this stage, when children play they are completely in the moment and are only interested in time when it comes to bringing their play to an end. It is when they are in school that they impatiently wait for classes to come to an end so that they can go out and play. Children require no instructions to value the present; it comes naturally to them in play time.
Hence, the challenge before us is to bring alive the child in us even after we have grown up and are involved in work. If we are involved in work that we enjoy and is fulfilling, we can look at it as play and try to live in the moment. Unfortunately, most of us take up work for monetary reasons and try to find joy outside of work in our holidays, post work hobbies or family time. In such a situation it becomes difficult to unwrap the gift that is the present.
However, the present is always brimming with potential. We can try to make work as playful as possible to challenge ourselves, stimulate our imagination and get our creative juices flowing. This is easier said than done when the majority of the workforce looks upon their professional lives with a sense of weariness and lack of enthusiasm to push themselves. In such a situation it is up to the seniors to create an environment where people get motivated to take up challenges and look at work with a sense of play.
It is not easy to create an environment of play when people work by the clock and their primary motivation is to get maximum recognition by minimum effort. This is where bosses need to get creative and set an example through the way they lead teams and go about their own work. Meetings need to be scheduled in such a way that everybody is heard and should be kept to a minimum so that they don’t interfere with productivity.
It is far easier for individuals to go about their work as play than for it to be simulated through efforts of seniors at work. Of course, it would help if somebody gave direction as to how one could go about their work as play. But it is only through individual efforts that an atmosphere of play can be created. All play requires is creativity, imagination and focus. All these three components are critical for successful work.
Unfortunately, work is so encumbered by timelines, profit margins and productivity metrics that it is difficult to experiment with play. Play and living in the present requires freedom and chance to push one’s boundaries. There are certain companies like Google which have created a measure known as 20 percent time for experimental products. Some of Google’s most successful products such as Gmail started off as experiments in 20 percent time. Hence, there is proof of the value of play.
However, all companies do not have the deep pockets and resources that Google possesses. Notwithstanding this fact, there is much to learn from the fact that play and living in the moment are not simply for children and philosophers respectively. They have their place in the corporate world if implemented properly. This task of implementation is not simply complex for employees but also for employers. Play needs to be given due importance without making work frivolous. Also, there need to be appropriate metrics for understanding where play is leading somewhere or not. This was recently seen when Google decided to shut down its ambitious internet project Loon because of lack of certainty about implementations.
Deep down we are all children who hate to be restricted to a timetable, subjected to annual examinations and forced to study subjects that may have little practical value. The task before those in charge of work is to loosen boundaries and allow employees to play in their own little ways. Work requires a sense of routine, else it would be chaotic. It is this sense of balance between chaos and routine, work and play, punctuality and timelessness that needs to be discovered in order to create successful firms that successfully innovate and push the boundaries of thinking.
It is not easy to live in the moment when you are rushing from one deadline to the next. However, living in the moment does not mean that you ignore the past or disregard the future. It is about learning and flowing from one moment to the next. This sense of ease is actually ingrained in each of us as children. However, along the way as we grow older we create these artificial boundaries of time so that we can make better sense of the world.
It is quite interesting to visit old monuments and historical places that go back to a few centuries and more. The energy of those times seems to still be present at these places. This phenomenon can be best summarized by the saying that the past, present and future are all happening together. It is up to us to ride the Eternal Now and move towards the horizon of the present. This applies for work, play and all aspects of life.