Research in organizational psychology has established play as a powerful enhancer of creativity. Playfulness has been identified as an essential aspect of a creative organizational climate and an encourager of a creative and innovative work environment. (Ekvall, 1996; Starbuck & Webster, 1991; Deal & Key, 1998; Costea, Crump, & Holm, 2005; Mainemelis & Ronson, 2006; Statler, Roos, & Victor, 2009; Chang, 2011). Experimental research suggest that play triggers a shift towards a creative state of mind and directly benefits creative performance. The following are some examples of playful activities that have in peer-reviewed articles been reported to boost creativity:
• Playing silly meeting games. (West, Hoff & Carlsson, 2015)
• Temporarily imagining oneself as a child. (Zabelina & Robinson, 2010).
• Framing work tasks as playful (Glynn, 1994)
• Playing table-top role playing games. (Chung, 2012)
• Playing a physically active video games (Hutton & Sundar, 2010)
• Role play games (Karwowski & Soszynski, 2008)
• Lego blocks in the board room (Statler, Roos, & Victor, 2009; Statler, Heracleous, & Jacobs, 2011).
• Improvisational theater games (West, 2015)
• Tinkering with art supplies and plastic building blocks (Schulz, Geithner, Woelfel, & Krzywinski, 2015; Nisula, Kallio, Oikarinen, & Kianto 2015).
Research has suggested a number of theoretical mechanisms by which play increases creativity. Playing stimulates mental flexibility by expanding perspectives and practicing the use of imagination. Imagining new information, situations and relationships that are not true in the real world is possible in the imaginary world created by play. (Brown, 2009; Russ, 2011). The frivolousness of play, and the excuse to be spontaneous and silly allows individuals to temporarily let go of prestige and correctness which are obstacles to creativity. (West, 2013). Play allows us to temporarily suspend organizational objectives, encouraging experimentation and exploration. A playful climate also fosters risk-taking mistake-making (Dodgson, Gann & Salter, 2005; West, 2015)
Neuropsychologists have found that play develops novelty and behavioral flexibility in both animals and humans (Bateson & Martin, 2013). Arguing that play is a source of behavioral variety, researchers within organizational psychology have suggested that play promotes creativity by giving employees a legitimate excuse to behave in new ways (March, 1991).
A playful work climate encourages employees to be open for the unexpected by generating a surplus of possibilities and allowing them to operate with indeterminate expectations (Roos, Victor & Statler, 2004). Play also exercises non-judgement and openness to others. In the safe boundaries of play, habitual beliefs can be questioned which facilitates a shift of perspectives (Barry & Meisiek, 2010). Research has also shown the introducing play in workplace meetings enhances the the experienced creative climate in organizational meetings (West, 2014).
Although not yet well-researched, one interesting theory suggests that the element of playful surprise in workplace meetings may partially explain the how play benefits organizational creativity (Filipowicz, 2006). Also on an different note, unconventional leader behavior (such as standing on furniture, hanging ideas on clotheslines) has been shown to lead to increased creativity among subordinates (Jaussi, & Dionne, 2003).