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Reframe Play as a Principle

Published 6/13/2022

Play isn't just for kids. In today's episode we'll reframe what play means, and why it's a principle for great work and lifelong learning.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
I'm the day that this episode is releasing, it's my son's fifth birthday. And in honor of my son's fifth birthday, I want to take a moment to talk a little bit about play. My name is Jonathan Cutrella listening to Developer Tea. My goal on the show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. And today, I want to encourage you to reframe your thinking around play. What exactly is play? You've probably heard it a million times that children learn through play. And if you're like me, you've encoded in your mind, play is something that only children really do. I'm sure you have adults playing sports, and you can play a video game, but it seems to only be related to something that is entertaining. And so somehow children have this special connection in their brains that allows them to both be entertained and learn an enormous amount at the same time. This isn't the case, and I'm going to help you redefine the way you understand play, so you can integrate it back into your life, not only just at the end of the day, whenever you pick up your Xbox controller, but also in your work as a fundamental part of who you are as a fundamental principle in the way that you work. First, let's take a moment to talk about today's sponsor. This episode of Developer T is brought to you by Square. There are millions of sellers across the globe who you squared run every aspect of their business. You probably already knew that because you've probably encountered it pretty much everywhere you go, physically and online, many of those sellers are looking for customized solutions that are deeply connected with their business and easy to use. This is where you come in. You can grow your business by extending or integrating with Square using free APIs and SDKs to build tools for those millions of sellers. For more by going to developerate.com slash square, it's developerate.com slash square. Remember this is free. You don't have anything to lose. You can go and build a tool that millions of sellers could integrate with today. Head over to developerate.com slash square. Thanks again to Square for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. You can have a chance to be around a child as often as I do, which is basically every day, and you can observe play in action. What does play look like? Basically everything a child does is centered on this concept of play. In fact, a child doesn't really have a kind of separation between work and play. They don't really need that. In fact, it's only later in life that we really learn the mental model of delaying our playfulness. And so a very young child can see everything through the lens of play. Having contrast, of course, we see it as something that we only engage in in a few particular formats. Maybe playing a board game, playing a sport, or playing a video game. But every once in a while, we get a glimpse into that deeper meaning of play. For example, someone may play the stock market, or we might say that we're going to wait to see how something plays out. This reframing of playing gets us back to that hyper-learning environment that we had when we were children. Our brains may not be as plastic as they were when we were that young, but we can create those environmental conditions to encourage learning. Here's the incredible thing about play. For a child, they can play with any scenario that they want to, safely. They can play that there is a tornado coming. Or they can play as if they're a different person. They can play as an adult. They can play as an animal. They can play a sport. Or they can just play make-believe. They can cook a fake meal, or they can visit entire countries. They can play around with different kinds of materials to see how they interact. They can manipulate craft objects to see what they can create in the world. And the common thread through all of this play is the consequences. Namely, there's no threat in the consequences of play. When you remove the threat, you can explore the space. And this is what provides a child the opportunity to learn. They can change the variables without any concern about the outcome. They don't have to get tied with trying to drive a particular outcome. Instead, they can truly experiment freely through the constructs of play. What was the last time in your professional life that you were able to actually experiment freely without having to think about consequences? Now this is mostly a mental exercise. Of course, there are consequences to the work that we do. But what ways can we incorporate safe experimentation back into our lives? Into our professional lives? What kinds of playful experimentation can we bring back to the table? Instead of encoding in your brain, play as playfulness or as silliness, which is often the association that we bring to our kind of lexicon as we grow out of playfulness when we're young. Instead of thinking of it in terms of silliness, thinking of it in terms of scenario. How will this play? How will it play out? As a manager, find opportunities to create play in the work that your reports are doing. Create low stakes, high learning environments, where the incentive is not to drive a particular outcome, but instead to learn as much about the different variables as you can. Not only does this stoke our creative kind of muscles that we may not have used in many years, but it also gives us a way of building better mental models about scenarios. When we play, we explore alternative situations, alternative variables that we may not have explored ever before, out of fear. This is a basic principle in what you do. If you can reduce the amount of fear or specifically the amount of threat that you have in the environment, then you'll be more likely to explore. It'll be more free with your choices. Ultimately, that gives you the opportunity to play. Now if you take that one step further and do it intentionally, you're going to have a much easier time learning. For those of you who are trying to learn a programming language, don't be afraid to delete everything that you're learning and start over. Don't be afraid to write a new thing or to build something that seems silly on the outside. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. You can go again to New Square for sponsoring today's episode. Speaking of play, it'd be a great opportunity for you to go and play with an idea of what are the downsides of trying to build something for sellers. Millions of sellers around the world, if even a small percentage of them, use whatever it is that you've built. But you can grow your business pretty significantly. You can head over to developertea.com slash square. I think it started today. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. A huge happy birthday to my son, Liam, and until next time, enjoy your tea.