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Playing for Keeps, with Stuart Brown

Some people take their play seriously. Some just think its fun. Stuart Brown falls into both categories.

Stuart is the founder of the National Institute for Play, and the photo of a polar bear playing with a sled dog is from his wonderful TED talk from 2008. I had the pleasure of working with Stuart a few days ago to develop new experiences that incorporate play. “Play is pre-verbal,” he told us, “and it is a behavior shared by all animals, often across species” (as we saw with the polar bear and husky).

Stuart shares many of his discoveries about play in his wonderful, rigorous, and (of course) playful book, PLAY: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Here are the key properties that distinguish a play state from other behaviors:

• Apparently purposeless
• Voluntary
• Inherent attraction
• Freedom from time
• Diminished consciousness of self
• Improvisational potential
• Continuation desire

Dr. Brown’s research shows that people who engage in play have greater resilience and adaptability in the face of change, attributes that are crucial to successful innovation. I would say more about that, but I’m heading out for an apparently purposeless run.