How my quest for Playfulness began…

high wire“Play is not the opposite of Work. Play is the opposite of Depression.” (Brian Sutton-Smith)

A lucid dream came to me in my late twenties, when undergoing a holistic massage during a phase of burnout in my career as a corporate sales- and managementtrainer. Here’s what I saw; I am standing way up high in a circustent. Feeling very nervous about the thing I am about to do. I have told the people that I will make the pass on the high wire, ofcourse without a safetynet (who needs a safetynet!). I see the people far below me stretching their necks to look up to me. I do make it to the other end, sweating and exhausted from anxiety. When I am on the other side, I get this moment of deep insight. I recognize my constant and stressful struggle to raise the bar to attract attention and distant admiration from others. I now feel strongly, that I don’t want this anymore. It is costing me too much energy and not delivering me the real connection to others that I long for. I suddenly realize that I want to go on a swing instead, being able to look other people directly and on a same level in the eyes, and have some relaxing FUN.

serious playThe first thing I did was to pick up my love for acting, so I joined an Improvisationgroup in Eindhoven (Netherlands). Improvisation learned me a lot about being in a playful state and our weekly training did me very well. I felt happier, more connected to myself and others, more creative and resilient. And today (almost ten years later) I’m still having this weekly dose of Playful Fun.

It was not untill 2010 that I thought of making a connection between my work as a corporate trainer and my actingexperience with improvisation. When I attented my first Applied Improvisation Network Conference, it felt like I was coming home at last. Since then, a lot of wonderful things have happened. My quest for Playfulness is leading me to bringing Playfulness (and it’s benefits) to the workplace.

With Playful greetings,

Annemarie Steen

(Annemarie Steen is working as a playful learning designer & facilitator)

I’m afraid, but I’m gonna do it anyway…UHM!

Hi,

In my work as a facilitator of playful learning(*), I meet a lot of different people. The ones that are enthusiastic from the start and willing to try everything immediately. The ones that are a little shy and hesitant, but after some reassurance they will try, and the ones that say NO from the start. I notice a lot of limiting believes about being playful that’s holding them back. Recognize any of these? Playfulness is childish, ít’s crazy, it’s ok in sports, but not in business, etc.

Getting the benefits and learninginsights from Playful Learning is not something you can learn from a book. It’s an experience. So therefore it’s vital that I get my participants to leave their comfortzone and join the exercises. And from my experience, 99% of my participants do…and respond with high energy and powerful learninginsights.

So how do I do it? Here are some strategies I use.

First it is important that the participants get the WHY of Playfulness.

So, I often start with explaining the difference between left and right brain functions. I show them that succesful businesses nowadays are using their creative right brain capacities to innovate, to use design, storytelling, play, empathy and meaning.  Then I ask them to leave their logical, analytical left brain quiet for a while and invite them on an experiential journey to experience their right brain.

right left brain

If the group is very leftbrain orientated (technical people), I sometimes use Steve Jobs’ “Stay Hungry, stay Foolish” or quotes from Einstein.

After the introduction of the WHY Playfulness is important, I tell them that it’s natural to feel fear. Doing something out of the ordinary is ‘out of comfortzone’. Sometimes I share a story from my personal experience with an experiment that I conducted on a busstation at 7.00 am in the morning. I handed out 80 free blowing bubble sets to waiting travellers. A lot of them reacted with fear.

In order to deal with the fear, I often show my participants this video. In this clip you see that fear is causing you to take a step back. The way how to deal with the fear, is to reverse this initial tendency and take a step forward.

Finally, I teach the participants a mantra: I’m afraid, but I’m gonna do it anyway…UHM (with the UHM we all take the necesary step forward). It creates fun and commitment, and as soon as someone is holding back, I can refer to the ‘I’m afraid’ mantra and invite them to do it anyway.

frog

And then we start seriously playing and learning 🙂

With Playful greetings,

Annemarie Steen

(*) In the Netherlandswww.steentrain.nl, International with www.ha-p.com

How to change things, when change is hard?

“People don’t resist change, they resist being changed”

switchIn the book “Switch, how to change things, when change is hard” from Chip & Dan Heath (in dutch “Switch, veranderen als verandering moeilijk is”), they have some interesting insights and practical advice on change management.

There’s an inspiring story in the book about Jerry Sternin, a guy that worked for an international aid organization ‘Save the Children’. In 1990 the government of Vietnam invited him to set up an office in Vietnam and help to conquer undernourishment. He got the message to make a difference in only six months. Sternin had read as many as possible about the problem of undernourishment. There were many interconnected issues like bad hygiene, poverty, no clean water available, the lack of knowledge about nutricion of the people liviing in villages. Sternin thought this knowledge was TBU (True but useless). “There are millions of children that can’t wait for those problems to be solved.”, he said. To end poverty, clean the water and construct new piping, it would never happen. And certainly not within six months, with almost no money to spend.

Sternin had a better idea. He traveled to the villages and met with groups of mothers. He told the mothers to go out and measure and weigh all children in the village. Then they looked at the results. He asked them; “Have you seen children that were poor like the rest, but were bigger and healthier than the rest?” The women replied “Yes”. So Sternins’ strategy was to look for bright spots in the community. If some children were healthy despite their poverty, undernourishment was not inevitable.

He said: “let’s not sit still and analyse undernourishment. Let’s find out what the mothers of these bright spots do?”

It turned out that the bright spot mothers used the same amount of rice than the other mothers, but they feeded their children 4 times a day from it and not the usual two times. Also they were more active in feeding there children, by hand if necesary. And a big difference was that the bright spot mothers mixed small shrimps and crabmeat, that they found in the ricefields with the rice. And also the leaves of a sweet potatoeplant, that the other villagers thought of as inferior food.

He then invited the bright spot mothers to teach their way of cooking to the other mothers in cookinggroups.

By finding the bright spots, the solution to the problem was a local one, that was much more accepted than a solution from outside.

Six months after Sternin came to this Vietnamese village, 65% of the children was better fed, and it stayed that way. The program reached 2.2 million Vietnamese children in 265 villages and made a huge difference.

————–

What I like about this story is that often organizations reach for external help (consultants, researchers, interim management) in dealing with their problems. But these external solutions often encounter resistance with the people. In this story, the solution comes from within. It is allready there. The only thing you have to do, is to find these bright spots and learn from them.

In creating a more positive company culture, I look for the uplifting people that energize the rest, and put them into the light. Often they come from surprising positions in the organization, like the secretary or a maintanance person. I tell them they are the (sometimes secret) positive change agents, that bring joy and playfulness to the workplace. By acknowledging them and allowing them to be their natural positive selves, they invoke positive change in the organization. A change that is needed to answer to today’s challenging world.

With playful greetings,
Annemarie Steen

What childhood dream is still present in your daily life?

When I was a child, I remember watching an animated childrensprogram on tv. It was about a pelican with a big mouth. Whenever there was a problem, he carried everything he needed in his beak. I found this a facinating thought and decided to create something alike. From a carton box I built sort of a robotsuit for myself, with my arms sticking out. In the suit I would put all kinds of handy stuff to carry with me, like scissors, tape, rope, pens, paper, extra cloths, something to eat, etc. I felt I could deal with every possible situation that would occur and that felt very good (ignoring the fact that walking around in a box looks a bit silly).

In high school I bought my first hiking backpack, and often it was just standing in my room, packed and ready to go. When I was 17, I made my first independent of my parents trip with my cousin, to France & Spain. This went very well and a year later we went to Egypt and Israël. Since then, I loved to travel with my backpack, sometimes for months at a time. Everything I needed was in my backpack, and that felt good.

A couple of years ago I bought my dreamcar, an old Mercedes Campervan (1983). In it, two double beds (after doing some rearranging), a little fridge, cooking possibility, even a small toilet/shower space, lots of little cupboards to put in my handy stuff and clothing in, and best of all, I can drive it to wherever I like. Eventhough I bump my head regularly, it is very small livingspace for 3 people (my family) and the car starts to seriously show rusty signes of old age…I feel totally happy with it. I can carry around all the stuff that I need to deal with every possible situation…like my childhood cartonrobotbox.

What childhooddream is still present in your daily life?

With enthusiasm,

Annemarie

Storytelling, great tool for selfdiscovery and reinvention

Last week I attented a 5 day online seminar on storytelling (www.reinventionsummit.com), with 4 hours of interviews with expertspeakers a day, and the possibility of online chatting with up to 99 other participants from all around the world. This was my first online seminar and found it to be very interesting. #lovenewtechnology

The biggest insight I got, was that The more personal your story is, the more universal it becomes.

Succesfull speakers, bloggers and online personalities shared their moments of truth. And when they decided to throw down their ‘perfect’ masks and dared to really show their authentic selves, their fears, their pain, their frustration, it was the beginning of their successtory. Apparantly we want to read and hear stories we can relate to on a personal level.

Another thing that I found interesting was, that most people think that they don’t have very dramatic stories to tell. Well, Life is dramatic, so we all have stories! (maybe you’ve become used to the drama in your life so much, that it feels normal to you).

The title of the seminar was Reinvention Summit. So what does storytelling have to do with reinvention? Well, if you review your own life’s experiences for stories, they are all about selfdiscovery and reinventing yourself. Your life’s themes are to be found in your experiences, insights & stories.

Ofcourse reviewing your life for these kind of (sometimes very hard, painful of shameful) experiences, can be challenging and it takes a lot of guts to share them with others. Ofcourse, you don’t have to. But I believe it’s worth the effort of exploring them and telling them (or writing them down) at least to yourself.

So what’s your story?

With enthusiasm,

Annemarie Steen