Like most kids, Gary Ware loved games. And so long as he finished his homework, he was allowed to enjoy them as much as he pleased.
Throughout his schooling, this ‘work first, play after’ mentality drove Ware to dedicate himself to his education. Whether he was interested in a topic or not didn’t matter, he understood that to have fun, he would have to persevere.
After graduating from college, and joining a digital agency, things began to change. Ware maintained the same mindset, but it seemed like the work was never done. So he worked, and he worked, believing that eventually he’d fine the time to play.
The time never came though, and soon, Ware was burnt out. It didn’t matter how successful he’d become – and he had become successful – the fact that he never found the time to stop meant he never felt like he deserved it.
Here’s the thing though: if you try to find the time to play, you never will. The vast majority of us just have too many responsibilities in our personal and professional lives that simply stumbling onto free time is incredibly unlikely.
What we must do instead is make the time.
Ware realised this after a discussion with his mentor resulted in him entering a local improv theatre on a Monday night.
Over the next two hours, Ware and 20 other people played games. Before long, he wasn’t thinking about the pressures of work, or the chores he had to complete on his way home.
The Tuesday that followed, Ware says, was one of the best Tuesdays of his life. Sure, the stresses of a normal work day were still there, but the couple of hours he’d taken to recharge meant they weren’t taking the toll they had been of late.
Ware introduced some of the games to his team, and the results were profound. Communication strengthened, collaboration grew more fluid, and their efficiency rocketed. It wasn’t long before Ware’s team was considered the best in the agency, and he puts that down to their ability to play.
In his presentation above, he explains how the low stakes of casual play are perfect for fostering key skills, growing comfortable with our failures, and with who we are.
Ware is also quick to define the distinction between play as escapism and as an energising technique. Indulging in a game is not an excuse for avoiding work. Instead, he describes it as a “condiment” – something designed to enhance the main focus rather than become it.
His ‘Plus Play’ concept – which seeks to determine how an element of playfulness, when added to each element of a normal day, can create benefit for an individual or organisation – offers broad potential.
Sure, Ware’s belief that play will save the world from itself might be a little optimistic, but he is right that it can produce the kind of empathy and overall happiness that would make each and every one of us a better version of ourselves at home, and in the office.