Playful Rebellion at Work with Gary Ware

Gary Ware at the CultureLab Podcast

When was the last time you were genuinely playful at work? If you are like most of us, it might have been a while. We’ve been conditioned to believe that work and play don’t really mix. Not only we’ve been taught to draw a clear demarcation line between work and play, we’ve also been convinced that work is somehow way more noble and more important that play.

But what if truly great work couldn’t happen without a healthy dose of play? What if, unless we can have fun with the work itself, at least occasionally, we can’t really achieve greatness?

Well, this is what I’ve discovered in my research. I asked thousands of people in the past decade or so to tell me about a time they did their best work. And almost every story I heard was a story of three elements we seem to need to thrive at work – fun, meaning and belonging.

This is why I’m so excited to share today’s conversation with Gary Ware, the Founder of Breakthrough Play a keynote speaker, and author of the book Playful Rebellion: Maximize Workplace Success Through the Power of Play. Gary assists teams with unlocking creativity, confidence, and collaboration via experiential methods that drive peak performance. He discovered that combining work and play could be a powerful solution to a lot of intractable problems and challenges we grapple with at work.

In this conversation, Gary talks about the relationship of workplace productivity and play, play as the driver of innovation and performance, the eight play personalities and how we can integrate purposeful play into our workday.

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Episode Transcript

Aga Bajer  0:00  

Welcome to the CultureLab. I’m your host, Aga Bajer. This podcast helps you turn your company culture into rocket fuel for meaningful growth. It gives you the tools and inspiration to make work, synonymous with fun, meaning, and belonging. This is where we explore how to cultivate remarkable cultures. Cultures that scale and evolve, as our businesses grow, and the world keeps on changing.

Gary Ware  0:32  

One of the reasons why I titled my book Playful Rebellion, is that I noticed, especially myself, the more knowledge that I got about this area and how it benefits us, it did not help me execute, it did not help me implement, and I actually had to rebel against my sort of conditioning. And that became a game in and of itself. And so to model will, I mean, before I start to give very specific things that you can do. And same for you, I’d like to invite you to cross your arms, cross your arms in a way that is normal, natural, just cross your arms. And notice what hand is on top of what hands on bottom. So that is your what is called homeostasis. Now I’d like to invite you to cross it the opposite way. So the opposite, and is on top. And so some of you might be struggling to do this. But once you get there, you’ll notice that it doesn’t feel right, something feels off. That is the dissonance, that is your your body trying to get you to go back to the way that feels normal and natural. So I want you to notice that when you start to put some of these things into play, is that it may feel a little bit odd. And that is normal.

Aga Bajer  1:46  

Hey friends. Welcome to episode 133 of the CultureLab podcast. This episode is brought to you by CultureBrained. A one of a kind accelerator program, where cultural leaders get hands on support and guidance on how to reach their goals faster. Especially now, in this brave new world of remote and hybrid work. CultureBrained connects you with outstanding peers on the same journey, but also with world class experts, including people you know from the show. And they will help you identify and implement new, better ways of creating a culture where people do their best work. Check it out. It’s tinyurl.com/CultureBrained. And no need to write it down. There’s a link in the show notes. So, I have a question for you. When was the last time you were genuinely playful at work? I’m guessing it might have been a while. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that work and play doesn’t really mix. Not only were we taught to draw a clear demarcation line between work and play, we’re also convinced that work is somehow way more noble, and more important than play. But what if I told you that truly great work can’t really happen without a healthy dose of play? What if I told you that unless we can have fun with the work we’re doing itself, at least occasionally, we can’t really achieve greatness? Well, this is what I’ve discovered in my research. I asked thousands of people in the past decade or so to tell me about a time they did their best work. And almost every story I had was a story of three key elements that we seem to need to thrive at work. Fun, meaning and belonging. Which is why I’m so excited to share today’s conversation with Gary Ware – the founder of breakthrough play. A keynote speaker and the author of the book Playful Rebellion: Maximize Workplace Success Through The Power of Play. Gary assists themes with unlocking creativity, confidence and collaboration via experiential methods that drive peak performance. He discovered that combining work and play could be a powerful solution to a lot of intractable problems and challenges we grapple with at work. In this conversation, Gary talks about the relationship of workplace productivity and play. He talks about play as the driver of innovation and performance. Very interesting thing that I had no idea existed, the eight play personalities and how we can integrate purposeful play into our workday. So with no further ado, here is my guests, Gary Ware.

Gary Ware  4:52  

My name is Gary Ware I run a small little company called Breakthrough Play where it’s my mission to use, applied improvisation and playful methods, as a transformation tool just to help individuals and teams be the best versions of themselves.

Aga Bajer  5:06  

Gary, welcome to the CultureLab.

Gary Ware  5:08  

Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Aga Bajer  5:10  

I’m thrilled to have you here. And I’ll kick it off with the same question I ask each of our guests, which is, what are the early cultural influences that shaped you as a person? In other words, how did you grow up? And what impact did it have on who you are today.

Gary Ware  5:27  

Thinking back, if we were to wind the clock back, my father, he was in the Navy. So that did mean a little bit of moving. I was born in the United States in Missouri and a bigger city called Kansas City. But because my dad was in the Navy, we ended up moving to Hawaii, and then finally landing in California in San Diego specifically. And that sort of bouncing around, I feel like has like a big influence in my life, because it’s all about sort of readjusting. Like, oh, we’re in a new place. Alright, how to readjust. It’s all about acclimating yourself to like, the environment, once we were settled in San Diego. So my parents, they are very big on education. And you know, they wanted their kids to get the best education that they could better than they were afforded growing up. So my Mom specifically, was so specific about learning. And I know that because I was at a different school, it seems like, every year into fourth grade, because my Mom just wasn’t having it. She was like, no, no, this school is not up to par, you are already reading, because all this other stuff. So again, it’s an ongoing theme of Gary, being in a new environment, Gary, figuring out what’s up adjusting and adapting. So one of the things that, I guess, looking back, it could be a superpower. And in some cases, just a hindrance, is I like to say that I am a social chameleon, you know, I know how to like figure out like, Oh, alright, cool, I understand what’s up with this environment. How do I need to show up here? In my work, a lot of times I talk about attunement, and getting in rapport with individuals, so that you can sort of bond and grow. And yeah, that was just something that I had to do by necessity, and definitely helped me. So that was my early years. The other things that was sort of influenced me and I, when we talk about like, my book and whatnot, I’ll mention this a little bit more. I was just a happy go lucky kid. Growing up, you know, we didn’t have a lot of diagnosis for stuff that we have now. But I have since become an adult, being diagnosed with ADHD. As a kid growing up, it was one of those things where teachers were like, Alright, sit down. This, that and the other. And my Dad realizing like, yeah, alright, I want my son, again, going back to good education. I wanted to be successful in life. And for my parents, it all started with being educated. And so his contract with me, that helped me up until like, I graduated college, was hey, you can play and have fun once you finish the work. And that sort of contract was helpful for like a sort of hyperactive social butterfly kid like myself, because I had structure. It was like, alright, I wanted to do this thing. I knew that I couldn’t do it, so sort of like practicing delayed gratification, it helped me hyperfocus, get the work done, so I can do this thing that I wanted to do. And that was just like my operating procedure. And in a structured environment like school. It was very helpful.

Aga Bajer  8:26  

Yeah, sure. And I can totally relate to that. Because I come from a similar family, I guess, where there was huge emphasis on getting good education. And actually, this phrase that your parents used with you, you can play when you finish your work is the phrase of my childhood as well. And, you know, I really wonder, I think that a lot of people grew up this way. And I wonder, how does it shape our relationship with play when we grow up? Right. But we can talk about this later. But it’s a really interesting theme right here. But I’m curious, what was your relationship with play as you’re growing up? How did that change? I understand that as a kid, you knew that sort of work and play don’t really mix well. And you should keep them separate. And then I imagine at some point, you joined the workforce. What was that experience? Like for you? 

Gary Ware  9:24  

Yeah, so my relationship with play was like, I loved it. And thinking back on all the research on play, and my own experience, yeah, it’s true. This is where all the relationships were made. This is where a lot of growth happened. So again, going from school to school to school, that’s where I made my friends. I knew it was like on the playground. You know, you go out to recess. I at young age, learn how to like spot, like Alright, talk to people like me, alright, I need to go find those folks are playing the games that I like to play, and you know, just sort of going in and like, Hey, you want to play and it’s interesting because as kids it’s that’s simple to make friends, hey, do you want to play and we start playing, but as adults, and again, we’ll get into this, it becomes challenging. We need more opportunity. So I love playing all kinds of play and growing up. And I’m still this way. I’m very much a jokester.

Aga Bajer  10:21  

I can see that. I can see the sparkle in your eyes. 

Gary Ware  10:24  

Oh, thank you. Yeah. So I very much a jokester. I like to pranks and have fun. And it’s all in good fun. It’s never meant to be sort of hurtful or anything like that. Yeah, that was just like how I operated. We played outside, growing up, and then eventually, we got video games. And I liked that as well. The relationship with play was, it was always something that had to be earned. Which, again, looking back, I was like, Oh, now I know why I have so much…

Aga Bajer  10:58  

And again, I think a lot of our listeners grew up in a similar way with similar boundaries. I read in your book that you started your career in a startup. And I think it was a marketing agency, right? And you talk about this experience of being employee number 23. Now to a lot of our listeners  come from startups or scale ups, and they do have that experience, where at the very beginning, that it’s almost palpable. Everything that you do is so much fun. And there’s usually so much joy and spontaneity. And then, of course, as the company grows and scales, it changes. And it was your experience as well. Can you talk to me a little bit about this journey? And how that led you, if it led you, to the path that you’ve arrived at recently?

Gary Ware  11:48  

Yeah, you hit the nail right on the head. It was exciting. We were building something, we were very scrappy. And it was extremely playful. We were working very hard. And at the same time, you know, we were having a lot of fun. But see, here’s the challenge that I will, we’ll dive into this. But I just want to sort of preface this with this. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We didn’t know, like the essence of what was making us sort of bond. But yeah, we had, like, you know, we had, like, it wasn’t necessarily beer on tap, but like, you know, we had a fridge full of supplies and snacks and stuff like that, you know, we as a small unit, hung out together, you know, after work, and it wasn’t like a forced thing is like, yeah, you know, we worked really hard to going okay, what do we want to do? So we were all somewhat around the same age, we all had similar interests. And it was a lot of fun. The work that we did was very challenging. We’re doing large, multimillion dollar marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world. And those kinds weren’t necessarily the easiest to work with. However, we had each other and we actually created little games, like we had a client that was just the hardest to work with. And we were on these conference calls, like pre-Zoom, so this is on the phone. I’m glad it was pre-Zoom. It’s on the phone, and the client is berating us and, and, you know, all these other things. And we have like a little bingo card. Because this client would love to see like these hip words and whatnot, seemingly to you know, to sound smart. And, and every time, you know, one of those phrases were said, like, we will mark it off. And it’s just our way..

Aga Bajer  13:34  

Do you remember? Do you remember any of these words?

Gary Ware  13:36  

Oh, gosh, yeah, peaks and valleys, peaks. And they will say that all the time. Tell me about the peaks and valleys were like, Oh my gosh, really? You know, and then. And optimization was a big one. Granted, that’s what we did we optimized ,but like peaks and valleys was their, like, was their catchphrase. Like, it was always about the peaks and valleys. So anyways, yeah, we had this big old card. And then if we failed the card, which happened, god, like, 90% of the time, we celebrated, you know, after work shots and so, but yeah, that was that was, that was the culture. And then naturally, we grew. And as we grew, since this was a startup, it was a venture backed company, eventually, you know, you know, having investors and whatnot, the investors are like, Alright, so, you know, what are you going to become? You know, what are you going to grow into? And, you know, the company, you know, decided, oh, yeah, you know, we need to quote unquote, “grow up”. And I mentioned this in the book. And I remember this, just like it was yesterday, they had this, leadership considered this like a sort of like a, almost like a rebranding, and is trying to get like our sort of voice out, you know, into the market. And at the time, we had all of these inspirational words that were our values and whatnot, all over the office. And each one had, you know, a picture and it had the word. And they said, “Hey, we’re consolidating our values down to a few.” And I fun was one of the values, you know, and they took it off the wall, I remember it, like, it was like yesterday, fun off the wall. And that was like, almost like foreshadowing of what was to come. Because we got very serious, and, you know, some of the, you know, the words that stood, stayed was excellence. Now, don’t get me wrong, I always strive for excellence. But there was something about, again, going back to when I was younger, of, you know, save that sort of mischief. And, and, and whatnot till after the work is done, and we got extremely serious, the workload, in my opinion, got even more so. But we didn’t have that outlet that we had when we were playful. So this is where burnout started to happen. We started to lose, you know, key team, key members of the team. And again, these things happen. Like, again, I didn’t know what I know, now. But you know, I just saw it as like, just what we do, you know, hey, yeah, we’re growing up. So it’s just going to come with getting serious. And, and yeah, people are going to leave, and they’re gonna go find to other things. And then I thought this burnout was just par for the course. Matter of fact, I remember being at networking events, and, and we all are using, like, how much we’re working as a badge of honor. You know, almost like how can we one up each other? Like, Oh, you think you worked hard? Oh, no, no, let me tell you about working hard. And, and yeah, and I would, again, finally have time to go on a vacation. And, and not really enjoying it. Because, you know, my body’s recuperating. And it’s funny. I remember, as we were growing, me and my wife, we were like, finally on a vacation. Like, you know, we went to New York, and I got called on that, on that vacation, that we’re going through another sort of restructure, and we had to have, I had to have a business meeting on the vacation. And again, this happens, but it was just with this, this company that I work for it was, you know, it was like, fun, you’re gonna you’re gonna still work, you know. So it was very challenging to step away. And, again, I just thought that’s just how it was. And so I didn’t realize how I didn’t really know much about like, the symptoms of burnout and stuff like that. I didn’t realize how burnt out I was, until I took an improv class. So that was like the thing that started to change my perception and, and get me to realize that oh, play is something that is not something that you earn, it’s something that you can do, you know that you should have, it’s your right. And matter of fact, it helps in all sorts of situations. So the funny thing is, I didn’t take this improv class, like as a like, outlet, like, oh, I want to have fun. It was in service of my job. As an up and coming director, I knew one of the skill sets that I need to have, I needed to be better at public speaking. Here in the States, we have a thing called Toastmasters. And it’s great at building a foundation for public speaking. They teach you structure. It’s awesome. It just wasn’t something that allowed me to feel authentically me. I felt like a robot, you know. And so but I still wanted to get better.

Aga Bajer  18:30  

These meetings are super structured. I actually had just joined Toastmasters when I lived in Cyprus. And I was shocked. Because I’ve never seen meetings that were so structured. So, I think you’re totally right. And, and I have to say that I left for the same reason. It was just too rigid for me.

Gary Ware  18:50  

Yeah, too rigid, for some people. Oh my gosh, when I tell them when I mentioned this in talks or whatnot, people are so upset. They’re like, what do you mean Toastmasters? I’m like it, it’s just not for me. I did learn a lot from it. It just wasn’t for me. And I was looking for something else. And a mentor of mine said, you should take an improv class, I think you would benefit from it. And I was reluctant at first thinking like, how’s this gonna help me? Again, I’m not trying to be an actor. I don’t want to be on Saturday Night Live. I don’t want to write sketches. I don’t want to be a comedian. I just want to get better at my job. So, maybe I can make a little bit more money. And but I did it. I signed up.

Aga Bajer  19:27  

For the sake of our listeners, for everyone who’s not entirely familiar what improv is and how it works. Can you just give us a short description of what you do in an improv class?

Gary Ware  19:37  

Yeah, thank you for that, because I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was getting myself into. But basically, what improvisation is, especially the improv that I did, it is essentially thinking on your feet. Improv is, in the form that I did, it was theatrical, improv, a comedic improv. So you would get these prompts and you would have to do activities. Spontaneous activities, just on the spot, the classes, they help you get better at the muscles and the skills that are needed, so that you can do it on a stage with an ensemble, you know, without a script or anything like that. So that’s just training you for you know being able to do that. A mentor of mine told me that, hey, this sort of training would be great for you, you know, in your job, because, again, you know, life is not scripted. Yes, you might have scripted moments, but life is very spontaneous. You have to be able to think on your feet. Improv is all about an ensemble. We often work in groups, even if you work by yourself, there’s still, you have to be good at listening, communicating and things like that. All this stuff. I had no idea. I had no idea. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I just heard that, yeah, take an improv class, it will be better for you. And again, wanting to get better at what I did, I signed up, the magic happened on day one. It just blew my mind. And I thought it was just me, but I’ve had so many folks take an improv class, after hearing me talk about it, and they’ve all like confirmed, what happens is for two hours, most of our classes, you know, hour, two hours, it was a seven week class, it was two hours, once a week. And we play these silly games, very silly games. But for two hours, I’m completely captivated. I’m completely present. I’m completely focused. And these games are so silly. But we learn these principles that transform outside of the stage. Some principles like embracing mistakes, as a professional. Yes, we strive to like, not have mistakes, but guess what mistakes happen? But how do we deal with it, it’s what it’s all about. And I know prior to take an improv class, I would take these things very personally. And it can be something like, you know, we didn’t have a good pitch or something like that. And I would just be just, it just affects me for such a long time longer than it should, because I take it very personally, and and these activities that we do, it’s conditioning our brains to realize that we can bounce back from these mistakes, and we can do it with grace, we can, you know, we can take the playful route, you know, and so that’s just a small portion of the many lessons that are learned in these classes. But the cool thing is, because I took time to do something that was outside of work, that inherently was playful, that was fun, you know, pleasurable, whatever the case might be, like, it started to, started to rejuvenate me, like I went home. And I was just so excited. So happy. And my, my wife thought I was drunk and I thought I had been out drinking, I hadn’t. She didn’t believe me at first. But I was just so happy and excited. And this was something that I got to do every week. And I wanted to do more of it. So I was just hooked. I didn’t immediately see all the like the benefits. But I did see how these activities started to translate to my day to day, and I started bringing them, as a new up and coming leader, I wanted to engage my team. So I started bringing them to meetings, I started bringing them to my teams to do before we had a stressful pitch. After a stressful pitch. On Friday’s, I just would bring these games and I started bringing that play back to our environment. And that’s when things started to shift.

Aga Bajer  23:44  

That’s amazing. It’s really fascinating to me, because I’ve mentioned this to you, when we first spoke, I’ve done some primary research. And basically it was all founded in one question that I asked people and the question was, tell me about a time you did your best work. And we analyze this data, doing qualitative analysis of the interviews and themes started to emerge. And this is how I landed on the three pillars of thriving cultures. And one of them is fun. But it’s really about the joy of work itself and the playfulness and the co-creation, not the fun that we tend to associate with Netflix binge watching or you know, Facebook’s scrolling, but the fun that you talked about in the early days of your startup. Now, when I talk about these ideas, the biggest, the most vehement resistance that I experienced is around this pillar of fun, and people have a really negative reaction to it. And I can only imagine that partially it’s social conditioning and our culture. We talked a little bit about how we were conditioned by our  parents to keep play and work separate. And it’s really interesting that you had this a-ha moment when you brought in play into work. And it seems like initially, it was just based on your personal experience. But I know that now you’ve been really deep into the topic. So channeling the skeptics who are listening to this and thinking, this all sounds crazy, and I really don’t see how it could help my team to be effective. What is the science behind play as a driver of performance or innovation in the workplace?

Gary Ware  25:35  

I think we need to, sort of separate a few things. The thing that we’re talking about right here is doing our best work performance. So let’s get our take activities and stuff and set it aside. We can replace play with another word, flow. Researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about flow. And when you’re in the state of flow, you are being challenged just enough. Time goes by like that. You’re fully engaged, fully immersed in the experience. And I’ll ask, you know, leaders, wouldn’t you want that for your team? Wouldn’t you want that for your team?  Wouldn’t you want your team to be immersed in their work, where it feels like time is just going by? And they are, again, doing the best work? I’ve asked tons and tons of leaders and they’ve all said yes. So I said, okay, cool. So let’s just remember that. We all want that for our teams. Now, I would like you to think about a time when you were playing a game, when you were playful. What was that like? I bet you it was very similar to what I described as flow. And that’s the thing with with play, is that you’re in this state, where again, you’re fully immersed, you are being challenged, you know, just enough, you’re engaged, you’re interacting, here’s the thing is that it’s also pleasurable, it’s fun. And so how can we get that mindset take that playful mindset and put it into the work? You had a guest, Lindsay McGregor, you know, she was talking about the intrinsic motivators. And play again, is one of them. And so what we’re talking about here is, how can we get our teams to see the work as play, where, you know, we’re met with challenges. We’re overcoming them. And we’re completely immersed in the experience.

Aga Bajer  27:27  

Yeah, this is so, this is so important, I really appreciate you pulling out these various pieces of research. So one is around play is really the most powerful, intrinsic motivator for people. And I remember my conversation with Lindsay, when she asked me actually about the things that I do for fun. And back then, we were learning to dance tango, and she started asking me these questions like, why do you do that? Is someone paying you or you know, have you set a goal or something like that? And of course, eventually, you realize, oh, my gosh, really the thing that I’m most committed to and the most enjoyable, you do this for the joy of the activity itself. So this is really interesting. And obviously Csikszentmihalyi research as well. I think most of our listeners are familiar with that. And clearly, all of those things are the things that we’d like to see more of in the workplace and would like to be able to leverage. And yet I know that it’s quite difficult. And I think, you know, one of the reasons is the resistance that we talked about, for some reason we feel like play is this frivolous thing that doesn’t produce the numbers that we need to hit? What other obstacles are that, that make this so hard to accomplish at work? 

Gary Ware  28:46  

I think one of the main things is our mindset, is our social conditioning. We have been conditioned, as we talked about, in the beginning of this conversation, that play is something that should not mix with work. They’re two separate things. And when you see play through a single small little lens, of like, maybe goofing off or something like that. It’s challenging to see it for what it’s worth, something that is deep ingrained in our psyche, and we’re wired for it, and something that can help us bring out the best of our work. So that’s the first thing. We’re just conditioning in mindset. If we can shift that, then we can really unlock all the benefits. So it brings me back to the work of Jane McGonigal, who wrote the book SuperBetter. She is a researcher, and she was researching the benefit of, she was focusing mostly on video games. But the research is conclusive across the board of all types of play. And she said the difference, so the people that reap the benefits of play and use it to to thrive and to grow and all these things. It’s all about how they perceive the action. If you perceive the action as such something that you are suppressing things, you’re using it to escape, then it will become a detriment. Because then that habit becomes something you do to avoid doing something else. And that’s how most people, you know, see it as.

Aga Bajer  30:18  

For example, binge watching Netflix, right? That would be an example of that. Ye

Gary Ware  30:22  

But yeah, especially if your mindset of like, I don’t want to do work, I don’t have to go to work tomorrow, I’m just going to just, then yeah, you’re not going to reap the benefits. But I will tell you this. It goes for anything, your intention when you go and do any activity can be positive, or negative, the same can go for potentially exercise. What if your, your view on working out is like, I’m just working out as like a crutch, because I don’t want to deal with these challenging emotions, I don’t want have to go to, then it’s not necessarily going to benefit you, you know, the way that it can. And so that was, it blew a lot of things open for me. So that’s where I started working with leaders to say, how can we change our intention when we’re thinking about these activities, and realize that they have a benefit? 

Aga Bajer  31:11  

Is that what you’re referring to as purposeful play?

Gary Ware  31:13  

Yes. Yes, exactly. Ding, ding, ding! 

Aga Bajer  31:17  

Okay tell me more. 

Gary Ware  31:19  

Yeah, and so, how can we create rituals? How can we create moments, that are going to get us in the state that we need to be in so that we can do our best work, just going back to what we did before we started recording, we got ourselves primed for this interview, we did a quick little activity, and it just it, you know, boost our spirits. It got us focused, so that we can jump into the interview be connected,

Aga Bajer  31:43  

We learned a lot about each other, by the way. We did like in literally a minute. 

Gary Ware  31:47  

Yeah, a minute. And what’s happening here, under the hood, our body is producing what I call the dose. DLSE, which is dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Those are the neuro chemicals that we need to do our best work. The opposite of that, so that is what some will call the angel’s cocktail. And the opposite of that is the devil’s cocktail, which is adrenaline and serotonin. To be honest, that is what most people are dealing with on a day to day basis.

Aga Bajer  32:17  

Why is that? What what are the things that trigger these hormones? 

Gary Ware  32:21  

When you see, so adrenaline and serotonin? First, let me tell you the side effects of that when you have that, for long periods of time, it will result in burnout, fatigue, all of those negative things that is not going to allow you to do your best work. And so what triggers that because our brains are prehistoric, they’re the same brains, they operate exactly the same, just like before, we had technology and all this. So when we open an email, and we are like upset about what’s going to happen, our brains are wired exactly the same, as if we were being attacked by something, the difference is, it stays with us, we don’t have a way to sort of release that. And so that adrenaline and the cortisol is just flowing through our bodies, you know, makes us make rash decisions. We have short term memory loss, you know, we’re very sort of fragile and irritated. And, again, play is the antidote of that. And so, that helps us again, get back into that state of focus. But most people are running on, you know, just straight adrenaline and cortisol. And we think that’s just how it is. But, as a result, we’re going to get tired, quicker. Another thing as humans we’re not good at, we’re not good at judging our ability to work based on our tiredness. And we’ve probably heard the phrase I’m just gonna power through, well, guess what? Powering through probably means you’re going to work longer than you probably should, because you’re making more mistakes, you’re not as focused. You’re not as attentive. So what would you rather have?

Aga Bajer  33:53  

Makes total sense to me. And now I’m super eager to hear, how can we implement that at work? You know, what’s interesting is if we could talk a little bit about what each of our listeners can do, to become, as you call it, a play rebel at work, individually. But I also want us to explore what can leaders do, a lot of our listeners or leaders who are managing teams, and I’d like to pick your brain also on this topic, like what can a leader do to create an environment where play is truly embraced as part of, of the workflow, you know, and the process of accomplishing great results? So yeah, just take it from whichever point makes sense for you.

Gary Ware  34:41  

So first, I’m going to start with a quick story that is related, but it’s tangential. So I’m a parent. I have two beautiful boys are one that is six, going on seven and then the other is 17 months. And, you know, me and my wife, we want the best for them, you know, we want them to grow up to be kind human beings and, and great contributors to society. And they’re often times when you know, we, parents, if you’re listening, you can probably relate to this, where we are not necessarily in integrity with the things that we want. But here’s the thing. It happens. It happens, like, we just have to be honest, it happens. Kids are sponges, they’re always picking up, whether they’re conscious or not. And then they often times model the behavior that they see, rather than what we tell them to do. Case and point, we were trying to get my son to, you know, to get up early. Well just to get up. Yes, just to get up. He has school. And I remember where he was like, well, you don’t. Like there was something like, there was a time like, again, he noticed, like, we didn’t want to get up, you know, we’re just like, you know, a little sluggish. And in that moment, we realized that our actions are influencing our children’s behavior. And then we immediately was like, alright, we need to do better, we need to start to model the behavior that we want our kids to, to have. And so bringing it back to leaders, that’s the first thing. You can be watching, watching this or listening to this, and be like, oh, yeah, I want this for my team. However, if you are not willing to practice it, to model it, it is not going to happen with your team. Because I know firsthand, being on both sides of the spectrum, being an individual contributor and a leader, that you can have the best sort of intentions. However, if, if the people who are in charge are not following these things, it’s going to be so challenging for everyone else. 

Aga Bajer  36:46

Yeah. So true. 

Gary Ware  36:48 

That’s the first thing. And so as a leader, you have to be willing to be vulnerable with this, realizing that I’m not good at this. But I want what’s best for my team. And I want also want what’s best, you know, for myself, that’s step number one. 

Aga Bajer  37:02  

Yeah, so when we talk about individuals then, including leaders, because they need to role model these behaviors, and let’s say that people do want to embrace some of these practices, and go against the grain of the industrial model that tells us all the time you need to power through and eventually, of course, we end up burnt out, what’s the better way? And what are some of the practices that you know, that work for people?

Gary Ware  37:27  

One of the reasons why I titled my book, Playful Rebellion, is that I noticed, especially myself, the more knowledge that I got about this area, and how it benefits us, it did not help me execute, it did not help me implement. And I actually had to rebel against my sort of conditioning. And that became a game in and of itself. And so to model what I mean, before I start to give very specific things that you can do, and same for you, I’d like to invite you to cross your arms, cross your arms in a way that it’s normal, natural, just cross your arms. And notice what hand is on top and what hands on bottom. So that is your what is called homeostasis. Now, I’d like to invite you to cross it the opposite way. So the opposite, and is on top. And so some of you might be struggling to do this. But once you get there, you’ll notice that it doesn’t feel right, something feels off. That is the dissonant, that is your your body trying to get you to go back to the way that feels normal and natural. So I want you to notice that when you start to put some of these things into play, is that it may feel a little bit odd. And that is normal. That’s just, you know, we have a way of doing things, we have a default way of doing things. And then we when we try to add different systems and stuff like that, we’re going to be met with resistance. The first resistance is our own brains, is our mind saying, no, we’ve been doing this for so long. And it’s so easy to just go back to the way that we’ve been doing things, just because, you know, you’ve been doing it, but I want to ask you this. Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be effective? That’s the first thing is realizing the resistance that’s gonna show up. That’s why I called it the Playful Rebellion is that we have to playfully rebel against our conditioning in hopes of having better cultures. So, that’s the first thing and then leaders, what can you do in small increments? Because one thing that I’ve practiced myself, and I’ve learned through a researcher by the name of BJ Fogg, is that things that are done in very small amounts, consistently, over time, become muscle memory.

Aga Bajer  39:40  

And they add up, you get this cumulative effect. Yeah. 

Gary Ware  39:45  

It hacks our nervous system, it hacks our brain because your brain is like, oh, oh, yeah, I can do this. Yeah. Five minutes. All right, cool. And then you do it again, and again. And so it’s again easier said than done. So how you set that up, I like to call this a recipe. So you know, what is the thing that you want to tackle? You know, maybe the simplest thing that I invite all leaders to do is, you know, because we all need more breaks, it refreshes our brain, it helps us get more focused. Again, when we were kids, that’s why we had recess. So for you, and your team, create a recipe. So recipe, you need a trigger, something to trigger the thought, you need the action, and then you need the celebration. We’ll talk about that in a minute. So I invite folks to think about what are those inflection points that you tend to power through, when you know that you need a break, and I’m not talking about a long break, it can be as simple as five minutes. And so, it’s as simple as after I blank, or after we blank, we will blank because we know it will make us feel blank, we have to add that other part, because it needs to be important. We do the things that are priority. So after, you know, we finish a long meeting, whether it be conference calls, zoom or whatever, we will take five minutes and walk around, or we will take five minutes. And you know, do a dance break, whatever it is, something playful, other than don’t, don’t check your email, don’t jump into social media, that does not count. Something that again, allows you to step away from the medium. And if you’re in person, you know, connect with each other. And even virtually, you know, this is possible as well. But the main thing is to just get your body moving again, it’s going to give you that dose. And then that’s your recipe. And then make sure that after you do it. You celebrate. And it could be as simple as “Yes, we did it!” Like it’s a personal celebration. It doesn’t have to be anything like too wild. I know some teams that I’ve worked with, especially when they’re in person, they have like a little cowbell. So after they do it, someone rings the cowbell, again, that celebration is a reminder to your brain that this is good. When you do that celebration, you get endorphins, you get dopamine, that is that feel good neurochemical in our body that is reminding us that, yeah, we need to do this. So it’s as simple as that, that is going to start to put you on the path of becoming a more playful leader.

Aga Bajer  42:06  

So developing these tiny habits. I remember, I remember BJ talking a