Education

What if Your Job Was Focused on Play?

james-siegal

James Siegal (picture from his Twitter profile, @jsiegal at http://twitter.com/jsiegal)

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to James Siegal, the President of KaBOOM! – a non-profit whose mission is lighthearted, but certainly not frivolous: to bring balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids! James is another new Business Innovation Factory (BIF) storyteller for 2015… and I wanted to find out how I could learn from his experiences to bring a sense of play into the work environment. (For me, that’s at a university, interacting with students on a daily basis.)

Over the past 20 years, KaBOOM! has built thousands of playgrounds, focusing on children growing up in poverty. By enlisting the help of over a million volunteers, James and his organization have mobilized communities using a model that starts with kids designing their dream playgrounds. It’s a form of crowdsourced placemaking.

Now, KaBOOM! is thinking about a vision that’s a little broader: driving social change at the city level. Doing this, they’ve found, requires answering one key question: How can you integrate play into the daily routine for kids and families? If play is a destination, there are “hassle factors” that must be overcome: safety, travel time, good lighting, and restroom facilities, for starters. So, in addition to building playgrounds, KaBOOM! is challenging cities to think about integrating play everywhere — on the sidewalk, at the bus stop, and beyond.

How can this same logic apply to organizations integrating play into their cultures? Although KaBOOM! focuses on kids, he had some more generalizable advice:

  • The desire for play has to be authentic, not forced. “We truly value kids, and we truly value families. Our policies and our culture strive to reflect that.” What does your organization value at its core? Seek to amplify the enjoyment of that.
  • We take our work really seriously,” he said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. You have to leave your ego at the door.” Can your organization engage in more playful collaboration?
  • We drive creativity out of kids as they grow older, he noted. “Kids expect to play everywhere,” and so even ordinary elements like sidewalks can turn into experiences. (This reminded me of how people decorate the Porta-Potties at Burning Man with lights and music… although I wouldn’t necessarily do the same thing to the restrooms at my university, it did make me think about how we might make ordinary places or situations more fun for our students.)

KaBOOM! is such a unique organization that I had to ask James: what’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever observed in your role as President? He says it’s something that hasn’t just happened once… but happens every time KaBOOM! organizes a new playground build. When people from diverse backgrounds come together with a strong shared mission, vision, and purpose, you foster intense community engagement that yields powerful, tangible results — and this is something that so many organizations strive to achieve.

If you haven’t made plans already to hear James and the other storytellers at BIF, there may be a few tickets left — but this event always sells out! Check the BIF registration page and share a memorable experience with the BIF community this year: http://www.businessinnovationfactory.com/summit/register

1 reply »

  1. I’ve seen images online of work places where they have a metal slide and/or fireman’s pole for going from an upper floor to a lower floor. This is in addition to stairs (safety) and an elevator (ADA compliance). Others would have a box of crayons and individual pages from a coloring book in the middle of their conference table next to the speakerphone.

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