I have studied human play in depth so have learned to see most, if not all, human activities as games. There are desired outcomes. There are rules (spoken and unspoken). Some people cheat and others feel cheated. Some people win and some people lose. And most critically of all, the rules can be changed.

What if you saw your work or your life in this light?

What do you feel when you read this?

Do you feel life, or your work, are too “serious” to be considered a game?

Regardless of your response, the invitation is to notice it without judgement. It is simply information on how you see the world.

My sense is that seeing the world in this way is empowering. So, let’s play. This question can really be asked at any level of your life or work – big or small. So, pick some area with which you are comfortable and ask yourself:

  • What game am I really playing?
  • What represents success for me?
  • How will I get there?

Or, if you are ready for a deeper exploration:

Rules of the game

  • What game am I playing?
  • Why am I playing this game?
  • What rules am I playing by?
  • What rules are the others playing by?

Winning and losing

  • How will I win?
  • Do I want to win? What might winning cost me?
  • What might be holding me back?
  • What if I lose?

What other game might I be playing?

  • Do I enjoy this game?
  • Is this game big enough for me? Too big?
  • And, to paraphrase the French essayist Montaigne, is the game worth the candle?

This process is amazingly versatile, and the same basic questions are as relevant to corporate strategy (Where are we playing and how will be win?) as to any aspect of your private life.

Questions in the Image:

  • What game am I playing?
  • What are the rules?
  • How do I win?
  • Is it worth winning?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture by Johan Huizinga (link to Amazon.co.uk). Published in 1938, this is the classic tome on human play. His view is that play has been central to the development and ongoing unfolding of human civilisation. It is also not something that ends in childhood but rather a lifelong activity. All that changes are the types of games we play.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. Likely as a result of exploring this theme, these questions have started hanging around me: What might I be taking too seriously? Where might I benefit from a more playful approach?

We often feel pressure to come across as “serious” professionals. Serious professionals certainly outnumber playful professionals and yet is that how we can best serve our clients? As D.W. Winnicott, the British paediatrician and psychoanalyst, noted: it is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self. [Winnicott, D. W. (2005). Playing and Reality. Abingdon, UK: Routledge Classics.]

About Tom O’Leary

My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.

The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.

And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.

That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share?

I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.