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Ideas Are Born in Fields of Play: Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings



Play is manifested in organizational behavior as a form of engagement with work tasks and as a form of diversion from them. In this paper we examine both manifestations of play as sources of creativity. We argue that when play is a form of engagement with an individual's organizational tasks it facilitates the cognitive, affective, and motivational dimensions of the creative process, while when play is a form of diversion from an individual's organizational tasks it fosters the peripheral social-relational dynamics that encourage creativity in the first place. We explore the personal and contextual conditions that influence the two manifestations of play and the relative balance between them in a work context. Drawing on our analysis and the extant creativity literature, we conceptualize play as the cradle of creativity in organizations. We suggest that by temporarily suspending ordinary conventions, structural obligations, and functional pressures, and by encouraging behaviors whose value may not be immediately evident, play stimulates, facilitates, and even rehearses creativity. We discuss the practical relevance of play for the nature of work in creative industries and its larger intellectual importance for the study of human behavior in social systems.
Charalampos Mainemelis and Sarah Ronson
Play is manifested in organizational behavior as a form of engagement
with work tasks and as a form of diversion from them. In this paper we
examine both manifestations of play as sources of creativity. We argue
that when play is a form of engagement with an individual’s organiza-
tional tasks it facilitates the cognitive, affective, and motivational di-
mensions of the creative process, while when play is a form of diversion
from an individual’s organizational tasks it fosters the peripheral social-
relational dynamics that encourage creativity in the first place. We ex-
plore the personal and contextual conditions that influence the two man-
ifestations of play and the relative balance between them in a work
context. Drawing on our analysis and the extant creativity literature, we
conceptualize play as the cradle of creativity in organizations. We suggest
that by temporarily suspending ordinary conventions, structural obliga-
tions, and functional pressures, and by encouraging behaviors whose value
may not be immediately evident, play stimulates, facilitates, and even
rehearses creativity. We discuss the practical relevance of play for the
Research in Organizational Behavior: An Annual Series of Analytical Essays and Critical Reviews
Research in Organizational Behavior, Volume 27, 81–131
Copyright r2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 0191-3085/doi:10.1016/S0191-3085(06)27003-5
nature of work in creative industries and its larger intellectual importance
for the study of human behavior in social systems.
Play is a form of behavior that is readily and easily understood in expe-
riential terms. We all know what play is and we all play, in work or in
leisure, alone or with others, with objects, processes, or ideas. We recognize
expressions of play in the world around us, and we are aware that play
occupies social spaces of cultural and economic significance, such as theat-
ers, cinemas, contests, sports, virtual games, games of chance, amusement
parks, toys, hobbies, to name a few. While play as an experience is familiar
to us, play as a topic of inquiry is among the least studied and least un-
derstood organizational behaviors. Despite its role in the economy, and
despite the fact that other social sciences have long associated it with in-
dividual and social creative functioning, play usually appears in our liter-
ature only as an auxiliary or ill-defined construct. As a result, a number of
important questions have not yet attracted systematic research attention.
What is play in the context of an organization? What are its elements and
manifestations? What are the consequences of play for organizational life?
There is little published work on these issues and our field continues to lack
conceptual frameworks and research agendas about the nature and roles of
play in the world of work.
In this paper we suggest that play is a phenomenon that deserves sys-
tematic research attention because it is the cradle of an important organ-
izational process, creativity. Although play could be discussed in relation to
other organizational phenomena, its relationship with creativity is parti-
cularly important both in intellectual and practical terms. In intellectual
terms, the relationship between play and creativity has found theoretical
expression and empirical support in most other fields of social science. In
their novel writings, Freud (1926),Vygotsky (1978),Huizinga (1955),Piaget
(2001),Winnicott (2001), and Turner (1982) described play as a natural path
to creativity. More recently, Russ (1999) and Dansky (1999) summarized
empirical psychological studies which support that play fosters the creativity
of children and adults alike. In two acclaimed biographical studies on
exceptional professional creativity, Csikszentmihalyi (1997) and Gardner
(1993) found that a common characteristic of their subjects was that they
maintained a playful attitude toward their work throughout their careers.
Research on play in other social sciences has led to a set of theoretical
principles that appear to generalize in samples ranging from preschool chil-
dren to Nobel laureates. These theoretical principles provide one useful
starting point for thinking about the relationship between play and crea-
tivity in the world of work. Because work organizations are idiosyncratically
complex social systems, however, it is important to develop theory and
research about the manifestations and roles of play specifically in work
In practical terms, an investigation of the relationship between play and
creativity is timely and overdue when considering the evolution of the work
culture. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution play has been viewed as
appropriate for children and poets but not for serious adults (Spariosu,
1989). The traditional administrative emphasis on rationality and consist-
ency in human behavior has suppressed play (March, 1976), but it has
not extinguished it (Sandelands, 1988). In 1927, Henri de Man observed that
in the Tayloristic industrial system it was ‘‘psychologically impossible’’
to deprive employees from opportunities to satisfy ‘‘the instinct for play’’
(in Roy, 1959, p. 160). In the 1950s, two studies by Roy (1953, 1959) vividly
illustrated that play occurs regularly even in inhospitable work environ-
ments. But much has changed since that time: work culture has started to
slowly, but steadily, transform its assumptions about play.
A few organizations now institutionalize play times, fun times, and cer-
emonies (Dandridge, 1986;Locke, 1989, 1996). Some companies, like South-
west (Hallowell, 1996) and IDEO (Sutton & Hargadon, 1997), have elevated
play to a central aspect of their cultures. The advent of the knowledge
economy has also brought play into the core of certain productive activities.
Some organizations now support ‘‘free times’’ in which people can play
constructively with new ideas (Nemeth, 1997;Pinchot, 1985); others provide
autonomy which allows employees to select and turn work tasks into play
(Amabile, 1996;Starbuck & Webster, 1991); and those in the vast play in-
dustries even hire employees whose passions and hobbies are reflected in the
work itself (Kelley & Littman, 2001). Some authors have noted that it is these
firms that earn profits, attract market attention, shape their industries, and
make it to the top of ‘most-admired’ company lists (O’Reilly & Rao, 1997).
However, to date it is a relatively small number of firms that have recognized
the value of play. Many organizations continue to see play as, at best, an
occasionally affordable distraction from work that may boost employee
morale but has little overall impact on their core business. A theory that
guides empirical research to exploring play and its implications for creativity
can help a wider group of organizations to understand that when play is
woven into the deep fabric of organizational life it can transform the very
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 83
nature of their products and work processes. Such a research stream will also
strengthen the evolution of a more integrated work culture.
The importance of play for creativity has been recognized in our field, but
has not received systematic attention. Thirty years ago, March (1976) sug-
gested that play fosters creativity by legitimately freeing people from the
requirement of behavioral consistency, and Weick (1979) argued that play
fosters combinatorial flexibility, the novel recombination of the existing
elements in one’s behavioral repertoire. More recently, Amabile (1996)
noted that a generous level of freedom encourages people to play construc-
tively at their work by combining ideas in new ways that might not seem
immediately useful in generating products or solutions. Other authors as
well have proposed that play is important for creativity in the workplace
(e.g., Barrett, 1998;Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989;Glynn, 1994;Huy,
1999;Mainemelis, 2001). Although these articles offer a body of important
insights, these insights have remained, to date, largely fragmented and dis-
persed across time and thematic areas. As a result, play has not yet claimed
a significant role in organizational creativity research.
The knowledge and observations about play from other sciences, from
our field, and from organizational practice are all pieces of the puzzle of play
in organizational life. In this paper we arrange these pieces so as to advance
the organizational literature in four ways.
First, previous articles have discussed play either without defining it (e.g.,
Roy, 1959) or by focusing only on one or two of its elements, be it means
orientation (e.g., Glynn, 1994;Sandelands, 1988) or flexibility (e.g., Weick,
1979). This somewhat selective treatment has prevented the articulation of an
encompassing definition of play as well as the development of a focused
research stream to investigate play. In this paper we tackle the difficult but
necessary step of defining the construct of play. We suggest that play is not a
limited set of activities but a behavioral orientation to performing any type of
activity. We define play as a behavioral orientation consisting of five inter-
dependent and circularly interrelated elements: a threshold experience;
boundaries in time and space; uncertainty-freedom-constraint; a loose and
flexible association between means and ends; and positive affect. We describe
in-depth the five elements of play, how they are interrelated, and how they
differ, as a patterned behavioral orientation, from other forms of behavior.
Second, previous research has approached the organizational manifes-
tations of play in a selective and perhaps dichotomous way. One part of
the literature has focused on play as a diversion from work tasks (e.g.,
Elsbach & Hargadon, 2002;Jett & George, 2003;Roy, 1959), while the
other part of the literature has discussed play as a way of engaging with
work tasks (e.g., Amabile, 1996;Glynn, 1994;Mainemelis, 2001). In this
paper we give equal attention to both manifestations of play, how they are
interrelated, and under which conditions they interact to foster creativity.
This dual focus allows us to create a more complete picture of the poly-
morphous nature and roles of play in organizational life.
Third, previous articles have explained the relationship between play and
creativity mainly through cognitive (e.g., Glynn, 1994) and motivational
(e.g., Amabile, 1996) mechanisms. Here we pay attention to the cognitive
and motivational dimensions of this relationship, but we also give center
stage to the role of affect as a link between play and creativity – a link which
has largely been overlooked in the creativity literature, to date.
Finally, we address a question that has rarely been tackled, to date: how
important exactly is play for creativity in organizations? We argue that play
is very important because it is a context of behavior that can simultaneously
encompass all the elements and processes identified by previous research as
stimulants of creativity. Our argument is not that all play is creative but
that, more often than not, creativity is born out of some form or moment of
play. We suggest that play facilitates the full range of factors that enable
individual creativity and that by nurturing play organizations can improve
their creative output. When play is marginalized by being viewed as det-
rimental to work its benefits to creativity are also likely to be marginalized.
We argue that the full benefits of play to creativity are more likely to
be realized when play is accepted and encouraged as an integral part of
organizational life.
We begin by defining play as a patterned behavioral orientation, which
consists of five interrelated elements. We then discuss two manifestations of
play in organizations, namely play as a form of engagement with work tasks
and play as a form of diversion from them. Play as engagement is the
fundamental and most important manifestation of play in relation to cre-
ativity. We suggest that play as engagement fosters creativity directly by
facilitating the cognitive and affective dimensions of the creative process, as
well as the motivational and skill conditions that support the creative proc-
ess in the first place. In the following section we suggest that play as di-
version fosters creativity as well, but in more peripheral, indirect ways. Play
as diversion may include office celebrations, surfing the internet, joking with
colleagues, and other activities that are not part of an individual’s core
work tasks. Although such activities are external to task performance,
they are integral to the social context in which task performance takes place.
Research has shown that the social context affects task performance (e.g.,
Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996). We argue here that,
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 85
under certain conditions, play as diversion shapes the social context in a
way that encourages and enhances creative task performance. In the fol-
lowing section, we discuss the conditions that facilitate play and influence
the relationship between play as engagement and play as diversion. We
suggest that the relative balance between the two manifestations of play
depends upon and reflects the nature of work and the nature of creativity
in organizational contexts. We also argue that the full benefits of play to
creativity are realized when organizations embrace both play as engage-
ment and play as diversion. Finally, in the last section we synthesize our
arguments at a higher level of abstraction. We conceptualize play as an
organizational space of creative potential and argue that, although on the
surface the reality of play seems to contradict the very idea of work, play in
fact creates new work for the future. We conclude by addressing limitations
of our approach, remaining puzzles endemic to the nature of play, and
future directions for organizational research.
Play is not a set of activities but a way of organizing behavior in relation to
any activity (Miller, 1973). Designing and writing are play sometimes but
not at other times; cooking and driving are play for some but not for others.
The essence of play is that one does not ‘‘do’’ the activity in the ordinary
sense; one, rather, ‘‘plays’’ it (Huizinga, 1955). Theories in anthropology
(e.g., Huizinga, 1955;Miller, 1973;Turner, 1982), psychology (e.g., Bruner,
1972;Winnicott, 2001) and sociology (e.g., Caillois, 2001) describe play as a
set of qualities that is superimposed upon an activity regardless of its con-
tent. Integrating and elaborating upon these insights, we define play as a
behavioral orientation consisting of five elements: a threshold experience;
boundaries in time and space; uncertainty-freedom-constraint; loose and
flexible association between means and ends; and positive affect.
Threshold Experience
Play is accompanied by the awareness that it is distinct from ordinary life.
To play is to stand at a threshold between what we normally perceive as two
dichotomous states. Play is often a threshold between the true and the false,
being itself neither true nor false (Sutton-Smith, 1997). In a playfight, a bite
is both not a bite and not not a bite; in a game of cops-and-robbers, a robber
is not a robber but also not not a robber, that is, she is not a real robber but
she does behave as if she were one. Plays offer such thresholds between
convention and illusion, the former involving the realization that what takes
place is not true, the latter involving the enactment of those happenings as if
they were true – the ‘‘willful suspension of disbelief’’ (Coleridge in Bailey &
Ford, 1994, p. 385). Play, therefore, transforms the nature of an activity.
The behaviors of a playfight are part of ‘fighting’, but much of the fear, risk,
and objectives of a real fight are removed, so that the nature of the activity is
not the same as fighting. Play transforms the nature of work tasks in the
same way, so that the task involves work activity and may result in work
products, but the task is not experienced and is not performed as work in the
conventional sense of obligatory, instrumental, and efficiency-orientated
activity (Glynn, 1994;Sandelands, 1988).
Play has also been described as a transitional space between inner and
outer reality, an intermediate area of experiencing to which inner reality and
external life both contribute (Winnicott, 2001). Simulations and role-plays
offer such transitional microcosms in which managers can experiment with
possible realities and identities (Schrage, 2000). Play may also be a threshold
between stability and change, the process of leaving one thing without hav-
ing fully left it, and of entering something else without yet being fully part of
it (Ibarra, 2003;Levinson, 1981). This is known as liminality, a transitional
phase which is distinct both from the old and from the new, it shares at-
tributes of both, and encircles experimentation. Play, as a liminality context,
temporarily suspends social conventions and rules, giving way to ambiguity,
joy, frivolity, and exploration of alternative behaviors (Turner, 1982, 1987).
Between-and-betwixt the inner and the outer, the old and the new, or the
true and the false, play has a threshold awareness that sets it apart from
life as usual (Huizinga, 1955). For example, when salespeople stage comic
acts that exaggeratedly mimic interactions with clients, they superimpose a
symbolic reality upon ordinary life (Goffman, 1959), in the same way that
toys and simulations serve as points of departure from a normal perceptual
situation (Bruner, 1972), that is, as transitional spaces between the real and
the imaginary.
Boundaries in Time and Space
Play is circumscribed within limits in time and space, be it material or ideal
(Huizinga, 1955). Societies historically mark off a space and time for play.
Sports, festivals, and spectacles are institutionalized forms of play that claim
their own space, such as stages or playgrounds, and a ‘‘time out of time,’’ an
autonomous duration perceived not so much by clock time but by what
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 87
internally happens within it from its beginning to its end (Falassi, 1987).
These boundaries separate play from normal life, suspend normal rules,
and legitimize undesirable, repressed, or unexpected social roles and be-
haviors (Turner, 1982). In an organizational celebration over the weekend,
an employee can drink, eat, or joke more than usual, or she can be the leader
of the basketball team in which her boss is a player. Falassi (1987, p. 3) notes
that within the social boundaries of play,
People do something they normally don’t; they abstain from something they normally
do; they carry to the extreme behaviors that are usually regulated by measure; they invert
the patterns of daily social life. Reversal, intensification, trespassing, and abstinence are
the four cardinal points of festive behavior.
Falassi’s account applies not only to festive play, but also to play behaviors
that take place within organizations and involve work tasks. Organizations
like DuPont, Motorola, and Google permit people to spend up to 20 percent
of their work time freely experimenting with new ideas they are intrinsically
curious about (Battelle, 2005;Nemeth, 1997;Pinchot, 1985). Such practices
institutionalize a legitimate space and time in which individuals feel safe to
play with their work away from rigid structural requirements (Amabile,
1996) and social pressures for conformity (Nemeth, 1997) and behavioral
consistency (March, 1976).
In a second sense, the boundaries of play are not institutionalized or
conspicuously delineated. The same space may be a space for play at some
times but not at other times. Locke (1989, 1996) found that informal social
play usually takes places in the few moments before works starts, after work
ends, or during breaks from work. The same space may also encircle play for
some but not for other individuals. The boundaries of play in that case are
not a property of the larger social system but are defined, instead, by the
norms of a play community within it. This is evident in Roy’s (1959) study of
the informal social play of a group of machine operators. He notes that each
day is marked by interruptions of work that are designated as ritualized
‘‘times’’ – ‘banana time,’ ‘coffee time,’ or ‘peach time’ – that delineate a play
space of informal interactions that alleviate the monotony of manual work:
If the daily series of interruption be likened to a clock, then the comparison might best be
made with a special kind of cuckoo clock, one with a cuckoo which can provide variation
in its announcements and can create such an interest in them that the intervening min-
utes become filled with intellectual content. The major significance of the interaction
interruptions lay in such a carryover of interest. The physical interplay which momen-
tarily halted work activity would initiate verbal exchanges and thought processes to
occupy group members until the next interruption. The group interactions thus not only
marked off the time; they gave it content and hurried it along. (161–162) The ‘beast of
boredom’ was gentled to the harmlessness of a kitten. (p. 164)
Finally, the limits of play may also be esoteric or reflect idiosyncratic moti-
vations and work rhythms. Pinchot (1985) notes that failing to secure per-
mission to work on a task they are passionate about, employees may stay
late at work to play with new ideas or they may create their own ‘hidden’
space and time for play within the workday. Play may also involve states of
flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and timelessness (Mainemelis, 2001), which
command total affective, cognitive, and physical immersion in the task to
the point that they collapse the distinction between self and activity and alter
the perception of time and space (Mainemelis, Goldenberg, & Ranganathan,
2006). Intense forms of play involve such states of consciousness that sep-
arate them from the normal sociotemporal reality of the workplace.
Play usually involves surprise, uncertainty, or unresolved possibility (Sand-
elands & Buckner, 1989). Play activities vary in terms of how much uncer-
tainty they entail; for example, theater ranges from the highly scripted to the
purely experimental (Turner, 1982). Most forms of play, however, tend to
involve some uncertainty or unresolved possibility. One can internalize the
rules of chess and master its strategies, but one can never tell how a game is
going to unfold, for no two games of chess are ever alike. The uncertainty,
or surprise, of play is linked, in turn, to both freedom and constraint. Play is
relatively free from external constraints and allows participants a consid-
erable degree of autonomy to manipulate processes and assume new, even
unrealistic identities and roles (Caillois, 2001;Dansky, 1999). At the same
time, play imposes its own internal constraints, which are determined or
voluntarily accepted by the players themselves.
These elements are manifested in different ways across different forms of
play. In competitive games, the constraints are fixed rules that do not de-
termine the course of action or the outcome, but rather, enhance the un-
certainty of the game. For example, sports have two elements that make
them intrinsically rewarding: uncertain outcome, which stimulates surprise
and excitement; and sanctioned display, which allows the demonstration of
physical or intellectual dexterity within a set of rules (McPherson, Curtis, &
Loy, 1989). Other play forms do not have fixed rules but are bounded by
norms developed by the players. Informal social play is sustained by norms
that stimulate novel interactions; evolve in time; and suspend play at once
when they are violated (Roy, 1959). In improvisational play, constraints
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 89
emerge from the interaction between players and events: constraints drive
novel action, which creates new constraints for future action, in a mutually
reinforcing process (Barrett, 1998;Nachmanovitch, 1990). Often, the play-
ers themselves introduce obstacles to make the activity more uncertain or
more complicated than the situation demands (Piaget, 2001). Miller (1973)
refers to this process as ‘galumphing’, the ‘‘patterned, voluntary elaboration
or complication of process, where the pattern is not under the dominant
control of goals’’ (p. 75).
Play allows the voluntary exercise of control systems in which the players
can choose to some degree the arbitrariness of the constraints within which
they will act or imagine (Sutton-Smith, 1997). Through the induction of
constraints that introduce opportunities for further mastery or further
chaos, play maintains its surprise and unpredictability and allows people
to exert or to lose control in novel situations. Managerial simulations and
role-plays provide such ‘‘contexts for experiments within which practitioners
can suspend or control some of the everyday impediments to reflection-
in-action’’ (Schon in Schrage, 2000, p. 33).
Loose and Flexible Association between Ends and Means
Play may be triggered spontaneously (e.g., fantasy); it may be undertaken
deliberately but unfold arationally (e.g., improvisational play); or it may
have goals that evolve over time (e.g., experimental play). Play may involve
ends that defy reason (e.g., whirling around a circle) or ends that celebrate
reason (e.g., chess). What defines play is not the presence or absence of goals
but the fact that play is not motivated by the search for efficient means to
satisfy a fixed goal in a reliable way (Glynn, 1994); not the degree of ra-
tionality it may or it may not have, but the flexible manner by which means
and ends are handled (Dansky, 1999). ‘‘Play is not means without the end; it
is a crooked line to the end; it circumnavigates obstacles put there by the
player, or voluntarily acceded to by him’’ (Miller, 1973, p. 93). Bruner (1972,
p. 689) refers to play as ‘‘that special form of violating fixity’’ where ends are
often altered to meet the means at hand.
Positive Affect
Play involves positive affect that varies in its degree of intensity (from re-
laxation to frantic joy) and complexity (from simple feelings such as fun to
complex feelings such as emotional relief). Play can be relaxing when one
plays solitaire on the PC during a work break (D’Abate, 2004), or it can
involve high arousal when a medical team celebrates with exuberant affect
saving the life of a patient (Locke, 1996). While play is often thought of only
as ‘‘fun,’’ its affective structure is more complex and it often entails negative
The content of play may involve negative emotional themes. For example,
children often act out angry, violent, or war-related themes (Russ &
Kaugars, 2000–2001). Negative feelings are expressed through and even
used in play, such as the channeling of aggression through sports. What is
often positive in affective terms about play is that it offers a safe space for
the expression and transformation of unpleasant or horrifying feelings, such
as loss, pain, or death (Winnicott, 2001). Play allows people to cognitively
work through and reconcile conflicting emotions, also enabling the relief of
negative emotional states. Locke (1989, 1996) has used the term ‘magical
play’ to describe the deliberate effort to draw into a moment of play some-
one in whom feelings such as doubt, anger, or despair are indicated. In her
study in a pediatric clinic of seriously ill children, she observed this pattern
in the interactions of medical teams who have just lost a patient and in the
way physicians cope with the emotions of the parents of ill children. Play,
therefore, involves positive and negative emotions, and cognitive and emo-
tional elements, but it generally results in some form of positive affect, be it
fun, relaxation, ecstatic joy, or emotional relief.
We have defined play as a behavioral orientation consisting of five el-
ements: a threshold experience; boundaries in time and space; uncertainty-
freedom-constraint; flexible and loose association between means and ends;
and positive affect. These elements are not antecedents, consequences, or
epiphenomena of something else that is play; rather, they are the very stuff
play is made of. While not all five elements need to be present to transform
an activity into a play, the more each of these elements is present, the more
play-like the activity becomes. In its most intense forms, play involves a
circular interaction among those elements. For example, the interaction
between the relative freedom from external constraint and the imposition of
internal constraints generates and sustains surprise and uncertainty.
While these elements can be manifested independently in other forms of
behavior, in play they become coupled and take specific meaning. For ex-
ample, the positive affect of play is not a general positive mood due to some
largely unidentified reasons. Rather, it is positive affect tied to very specific
reasons, such as involvement, surprise, uncertainty, and out-of-the-ordinary
experience. Similarly, the joy experienced in play is not attached to attaining
an effect; if it were, climbers would fly to the top of the mountain and tennis
players would be happy to be declared winners without ever playing a
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 91
match. But climbers climb and tennis players get thrills by hitting winners
because they enjoy producing these effects and care about the activity, its
rules, and its integrity (Glynn, 1994;Miller, 1973).
As an organizational behavior, play is manifested in two general ways. First,
play can be a form of diversion from work tasks. Designing is the core
aspect of the work of an industrial designer; playing solitaire on the PC is
not. We refer to the latter behavior as ‘‘diversionary play’’ to convey that
such play behaviors occur daily when employees are not working on work
tasks (Elsbach & Hargadon, 2002;Jett & George, 2003). We cite earlier a
passage in which Roy (1959) suggests that diversionary play occurs daily at
work and, often, it occurs with ritualistic precision. Play, in these terms, is
not internal to work tasks but a part of the larger social context in which
individuals perform them.
Second, play may also be internal to work tasks, that is, a way for en-
gaging with one’s work. Starbuck and Webster (1991, p. 87) write that,
‘‘Advertising agents, creative writers, designers, planners, and social theo-
rists use fantasy and imagination. Athletes compete. Consultants and
researchers explore. Mathematicians solve puzzles. Therapists may use
therapeutic play. Such people cannot work without playing.’’ In a study
with 589 employees, Abramis (1990, p. 364) found that some experience
their work as play; for example, an employee comments, ‘‘I can not believe
that people pay me to do my hobby.’’ Play as engagement refers to those
occasions where employees do not halt or escape work to play but, rather,
turn their work into play (Amabile, 1996;Beatty & Torbert, 2003). Play, in
this sense, is a behavioral orientation to performing work, and as such, it
has a direct functional relation to creativity. While play as diversion affects
creativity indirectly, by shaping a favorable social-relational (Perry-Smith &
Shalley, 2003) and affective (Elsbach & Hargadon, 2002) climate, play as
engagement affects creativity directly because it is internal to an individual’s
work tasks in relation to which creativity is conceptualized and assessed. We
analyze these relationships in the next sections.
Creativity is the generation of ideas that are novel and potentially useful
(Amabile, 1988;Woodman, Saywer, & Griffin, 1993). Psychological research
has identified several cognitive (e.g., Guilford, 1968) and affective (e.g.,
Russ, 1993) processes that facilitate creativity. Organizational research has
explored how creativity is influenced by motivation (e.g., Amabile, Hill,
Hennessey, & Tighe, 1994); the work climate (e.g., Amabile et al., 1996);
social-relational processes (e.g., Perry-Smith, in press); affect (e.g., Amabile,
Barsade, Mueller, & Staw, 2005); finite states (e.g., Mainemelis et al., 2006);
and the interaction between personal and contextual factors (e.g., Oldham &
Cummings, 1996). This body of findings largely supports the componential
theory of Amabile (1988), which suggests that the social context, motivation,
domain-relevant skills, and creativity skills interact to facilitate creativity.
Drawing on this extant knowledge, we propose below that play as engage-
ment fosters the cognitive and affective dimensions of the creative process, as
well as intrinsic motivation and the development of domain-relevant skills
and creativity-relevant skills.
Play and Cognitive Processes
Play facilitates five creativity-relevant cognitive processes: problem framing,
divergent thinking,mental transformations,practice with alternative solutions,
and evaluative ability. Problem framing determines how the problem will
be solved. When problems are posed in a unique way, their solutions are
more likely to be novel. Problems can be presented or discovered, but in
either case, framing the problem in a unique way is essential (Getzels &
Csikszentmihalyi, 1976). Play provides ample room for redefinition of the
situation. Its betwixt-and-between reality defamiliarizes the elements of even
a familiar activity, increasing in that way the likelihood that the task will be
framed in a unique way. Tasks are also more likely to be framed in unique
ways when their constraints are internal to the task and under the control of
the people performing them (Basadur, 1994;Runco & Sakamoto, 1999).
The relative freedom of play from external constraint increases the likeli-
hood that even familiar tasks will be reformulated in fresh ways. Further-
more, the loose and flexible association between means and ends in play
encourages people to sense problems in the first place, that is, to avoid
defining the task in the old and tried way that usually leads to already
known rather than to novel solutions.
The novelty that is most important to creativity is primarily associated
with two other cognitive processes, divergent thinking and mental trans-
formations. Divergent thinking refers to the generation of information from
given information where the emphasis is on variety of output from the same
source (Guilford, 1968). It involves ideational fluency (numerous ideas),
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 93
ideational flexibility (shifts in approach), and broad scanning (Torrance,
1995;Sternberg & O’Hara, 1999). Mental transformations entail the trans-
formation of existing knowledge into new patterns of configurations
(Guilford, 1968). They involve association, combination, or transformation
of existing memory structures; metaphoric production; imagery; analogical
thinking; and broad and flexible idea categorization (Ward, Finke, & Smith,
1999). Empirical psychological studies have shown that play involves a great
deal of both divergent thinking and mental transformations (for reviews see
Dansky, 1999;Runco, 1999;andSinger & Singer, 1990).
The boundaries and threshold reality of play stimulate novelty by en-
couraging experimentation with diverse ideas and possibilities that would
not be tried under other circumstances. ‘‘Play decreases the risks commonly
associated with experimentation and, thus, may produce more variance with
its circuitous, organic, and galumphing responses’’ (Glynn, 1994, p. 43). The
fluidity of play and its relative freedom from external constraint decrease
the likelihood of functional fixedness and premature closure, and stimulate
the generation of numerous and diverse ideas to the task at hand (Amabile,
1996). By liberating concepts, objects, and behaviors from their normal
contexts, and by uncoupling means from ends, play also fosters unusual
mental associations – the reconfiguration of the components of ideas, ob-
jects, or behaviors into new arrangements (Bruner, 1972). For example, in
their long hours of play, two bicycle-store owners, the Wright brothers,
combined their knowledge of bicycles with their observations of birds to
invent the first flying airplane (Jacab, 1999).
Moreover, in play people step outside the familiar into the imagined and
even into the contradictory (Bateson, 1955). This is facilitated by the nature
of play as existing on the threshold between reality and unreality discussed
above. The symbolic realities often enacted in play involve imagery,
metaphors, and analogies, all of which facilitate creativity (Dansky &
Silverman, 1973, 1975). Fein (1987) has observed that in play children not
only enact alternative realities but also craft and manipulate within them
elaborate symbol systems. In his seminal analysis of the creativity of Albert
Einstein, Gardner (1993, p. 104) notes that Einstein found affective pleasure
in creating imaginary worlds in which he developed and manipulated ‘‘his
symbol systems of choice.’’ Einstein himself wrote,
The worlds of language, as they are written and spoken, do not seem to play any role in
my mechanism of thought. The physical entities which seem to serve as elements in
thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be ‘‘voluntarily’’
reproduced and combined yFrom a psychological viewpoint this combinatory play
seems to be the essential feature in productive thought. Conventional words or other signs
have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned as-
sociative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced as wellyWhen I examine
myself and my methods of thought I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has
meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge yEinstein obviously
enjoyed creating and exploring words with his own mind. (Gardner, 1993, p. 105)
The problems Einstein puzzled with did not have a known solution precisely
because he framed them in that way. In organizational contexts, however,
even when a task does not have a known solution, an ends orientation, in
which one is focused on the outcomes of the activity rather than its means,
usually leads managers to accept the first solution that is satisfactory enough
(Simon, 1997). More often than not, this is not the most creative solution.
Creativity requires exploring and practicing with alternative responses to the
task (Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi, 1976;Torrance, 1995). The fluidity and
flexibility of play decrease the likelihood of premature closure and stimulate
practicing with many alternative responses. By fostering the generation of
alternative responses, play also facilitates a better, more informed evalua-
tion and selection of a solution (Singer & Singer, 1990), as well as the
generation of more creative solutions by possibly combining elements of
different solutions.
When individuals play, therefore, problem framing, divergent thinking,
mental transformations, practice with alternative solutions, and evaluative
ability are all facilitated. Put another way, creativity requires taking and
switching between different perspectives (Isen, 1999). Play facilitates explor-
ing different perspectives, creating alternative worlds, assuming different
roles, enacting different identities, and also taking all these, and the players
themselves, out of the cognitive contexts in which they normally operate.
Play and Affective Processes
Affect achieves its impact on creativity by influencing cognitive functioning
(Amabile et al., 2005;Isen, 1999;Ward et al., 1999). Integrating several
studies, Russ (1993, 1999) has identified four specific affective processes that
influence the creative process: affective pleasure in challenge, openness to
affective states, emotional modulation of affect, and access to affect-laden
thoughts. In this section, we briefly discuss these four affective processes and
suggest that play is conducive to them.
Affective pleasure in challenge refers to the pleasure of identifying
the problem and the joy of seeking and achieving novel insights (Russ,
1993). Affective pleasure in challenge stimulates divergent thinking (Isen,
1999), decreases the likelihood of premature closure, and strengthens
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 95
persistence on the task (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Because the positive affect
of play is not attached to attaining an effect but to producing it, affective
pleasure in challenge, excitement attached to surprise or uncertainty, and
the joy of ‘‘getting lost’’ in the task are all present in play (Russ, 1993). In
fact, taking affective pleasure in challenge, tension, and uncertainty is the
hallmark of play.
Openness to affective states refers to experiencing a wide range of
emotions. Openness to affective states has been found to facilitate artistic
(Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi, 1976), scientific (Feist, 1999a), architectural
(Dudek, 1999), medical (Estrada, Young, & Isen, 1994), and managerial
creativity (Amabile et al., 2005). The empirical literature suggests that pos-
itive affect fosters divergent thinking and mental transformations, while
mild negative affect in the form of tension can motivate problem-finding
(Feist, 1999b;Isen, 1999;Vosburg & Kaufmann, 1999). Creativity entails a
wide range of emotions – joy, passion, excitement, anxiety, frustration, and
disappointment (Amabile et al., 2005;Shaw, 1999). The emotional modu-
lation of both positive and negative emotions facilitates divergent thinking
and mental associations (Lieberman, 1977;Russ & Grossman-McKee,
1990). This process is affective as much as it is cognitive for it integrates
affect within a cognitive context (Russ, 1993). Comfort with experiencing
intense affect and tolerance of frustration and anxiety are some manifes-
tations of this process.
Play permits the safe expression and modulation of a wide range of
emotions (e.g., joy, passion, sadness, fear) because it allows the players to
choose to some degree the limits within which they will act or imagine.
Negative emotions are not excluded or suppressed in play; they are safely
expressed up to a degree that does not destroy the overall positive affective
quality of the experience (Fein, 1987). For example, in play children express
as much aggression, fear, and primal ‘‘bloody themes’’ as they can tolerate
while having fun (Russ, 2004). Similarly, a tennis player suggests (in Sutton-
Smith, 1997) that the joy of play is often related to the release of aggression
and the tension of its unpredictable twists:
I think women’s tennis is a ballet type of game. It’s got beautiful movements and I think
there is nothing else that combines the beauty of movement with the tremendously
graceful spirit. But it really is also an assassin’s game: if one person has won, the other
one is dead. There is no compromise. I become quite aggressive on court. I get a thrill out
of hitting a winner. (p. 88)
Research has shown that positive affect induced in a safe context stimulates
divergent thinking and mental transformations, while positive affect induced
in a threatening context leads to increased self-protection, risk-aversion, and
concern with possible loss (Isen & Geva, 1987;Kahn & Isen, 1993). Play
fosters creativity because it allows both the positive and safe experience and
expression of emotion. Even when play entails negative affect, it results in an
overall positive emotional experience, such as the channeling of aggression
through sports. Furthermore, although play is not safe per se (things can and
some times do go wrong in play), it is much safer than its morphological
analogues in real life. Playing with a simulation of a market crash is more fun
and safer than experiencing a real market crash (de Geus, 1996); playing with
a prototype is safer than producing a product right away (Schrage, 2000).
Also considering that jumping off a bridge with an attached cable is more fun
and safer than jumping off without it, it seems that what people seek in play
is not risk per se but variety; and it is variety, rather than risk per se, that
stimulates divergent thinking and mental transformations (Isen, 1999).
Another process conducive to creativity is access to affect-laden thoughts
(Russ, 1993). Affect-laden thoughts are concepts and images that contain
emotional content. As such, they provide an associative bridge between
cognitively remote concepts representing objects, persons, or events in
memory (Getz & Lubart, 1999;Ortony, 1993). Concepts are stored in mem-
ory according to their cognitive components but an emotional component is
also attached to them. When the affective tones of two concepts are shared,
the two concepts might be perceived as more related than they would oth-
erwise (Blaney, 1986;Isen, 1999). Concepts can resonate emotionally even
when they seem unrelated in cognitive terms. This emotional link fosters
associations between concepts stored in memory in distant mental catego-
ries. Affect-laden themes are especially conducive to imagery, metaphors,
and analogies. They also help explain why accounts of even scientific,
‘‘technical’’ creativity are often associated with emotional recognition at the
moment of key insights or discoveries (Feist, 1999b;Shaw, 1999).
Affect-laden themes may also be manifestations of primary-process
thought, the process by which instinctual energy surfaces in the form of
concrete images or ideas (Dudek, 1980). Unlike secondary-process (the abs-
tract, logical mode of thought), primary-process is not subject to rules of logic
or oriented to reality; it is affectively charged and guided by ‘‘a free flow of
energy not bound by specific ideas or objects yideas are easily interchan-
geable and attention is flexibly and widely distributed’’ (Russ, 1993, p. 20).
Access to affect-laden primary process themes has been found to facilitate
creativity (Dudek, 1999;Feist, 1999b;Suler, 1980). Dreams are examples of
primary process at sleep; fantasy play is the main gateway to primary-process
while one is awake (Ederlyi, 1992;LeDoux, 1996;Russ, 1993).
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 97
Play offers access to affect-laden themes whether they are related to pri-
mary process or not. Getz and Lubart (1999) note that just because a link in
memory resonates emotionally does not mean that it will be noticed and
accessed consciously; in order to be detected, the emotional resonance has to
pass a detection threshold beyond which the affective connection between
two otherwise unrelated concepts is triggered. Positive affect appears to
lower this threshold, allowing more affect-laden links to emerge in aware-
ness, while negative affect appears to have the inverse effect (Isen, 1999).
Like other positive affect states, play increases the likelihood that an affect-
laden link will be consciously recognized. But unlike most other positive
affect states, play lowers even further the point at which an emotional
resonance is noticed, because it also lowers the threshold of rationality
(LeDoux, 1996). Both experientially and structurally, play is fluid and not
governed by strict rules of logic.
Moreover, like positive affect-laden themes, negative affect-laden themes
can trigger mental associations that are useful to creativity (Russ, 1999).
Because individuals can safely express emotion in play, they are more likely
to access more and more diverse affect-laden material, including that with
negative content. From theater (Turner, 1982) to simulations of air combat
(Torrance, 1995), play fosters the symbolic enactment of even horrific sit-
uations because it allows people to experience to a mild degree the actual
negative emotions attached to those situations in real life (e.g., fear, panic,
death). This facilitates access to otherwise undesirable affect-laden material,
fostering in that way associations between concepts or images stored in
memory in very distant categories (Russ, 1993). By blending affect and
cognition, the positive and the negative, and the true and the false, play
provides individuals with access to more and more diverse material to work
with in idea generation.
Therefore, play fosters affective pleasure in challenge, openness to affect
states, and access to affect-laden thoughts. Play also aids the emotional
modulation of affect states. Clearly, reciprocal effects between play, affect,
and cognition occur in the creative process. Play stimulates affective
pleasure in challenge, which stimulates divergent thinking, which may
lead to surprising discoveries that reinforce affective pleasure in the task and
play itself.
Play and Task Motivation
Besides its direct influences on the cognitive and affective dimensions of the
creative process, play as engagement also achieves its impact on the creative
process by facilitating three other factors: intrinsic motivation, domain-
relevant skills, and creativity skills. Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in
the task for the inherent satisfaction one finds in it (e.g., interest, involve-
ment, curiosity, positive challenge), while extrinsic motivation refers to en-
gaging in the task in order to attain some outcome that is external to it (e.g.,
extrinsic rewards, expected evaluation, compliance with external directives;
Amabile, 1996). Although extrinsic motivation is not necessarily detrimental
to creativity, most studies have found that with little or no intrinsic
motivation it is unlikely that individuals will be creative (for reviews see
Amabile, 1996;Collins & Amabile, 1999;Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004).
Intrinsic motivation is not a necessary or sufficient condition for play. In
other words, not all intrinsically motivated activities are play. Clearly,
however, intrinsic motivation increases the likelihood of play for people are
more likely to play with the activities they find intrinsically rewarding. The
positive affect associated with playing these activities reinforces, in turn,
one’s intrinsic orientation toward them. Most importantly, however, play
(with the specific task) facilitates intrinsic task motivation in those cases
where the initial degree of intrinsic task motivation is low or tentative. Play
is not a necessary condition of intrinsic task motivation but it is a sufficient
one. We write earlier that play structures an activity in a way that stimulates
and sustains surprise and affective pleasure. Controlling for the initial de-
gree of intrinsic task motivation, empirical studies have found that play
increases interest in, involvement with, and curiosity about the content of
the task (Webster & Martocchio, 1992, 1993). This empirical finding res-
onates with our own experience in the classroom: play stimulates a great
deal of interest regardless of the topic and students’ initial attitudes toward
it. Be it in a negotiation game or in a managerial role-play, the uncertainty,
fluidity, and threshold reality of play itself usually stimulate excitement,
tension, and fun.
Furthermore, play stimulates intrinsic task motivation even when it en-
tails multiple personal and social goals (Starbuck & Webster, 1991). For
example, athletes historically compete not only for the love of the sport, but
also for glory, social status, and sponsorships; in the vast majority of cases,
however, the structure of the game itself – its surprise and competition
within a fixed set of rules – stimulates interest and the love of the sport
(McPerson et al., 1989;Sutton-Smith, 1997). These intrinsic rewards in-
crease, in turn, the likelihood that one will continue playing with the task in
the long run. For example, Amabile (1996) notes that Michael Jordan
played basketball for many external rewards but he also included in his
contract a ‘‘love for the game clause’’ that he be free to play pick-up games
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 99
any time he wished. Therefore, we suggest that there is a positive, two-way,
reciprocal interaction between play and intrinsic task motivation, and we
also clarify that play is a sufficient condition of intrinsic motivation while
the inverse is not true.
Play and Domain-Relevant Skills
An individual’s skill in a given task domain is another factor that underlies
his or her ability to be creative in that domain (Amabile, 1988). Domain-
relevant skills comprise the individual’s knowledge and expertise in a do-
main, and provide a set of cognitive pathways for the individual to follow in
approaching his or her work. For a chef, domain-relevant skills constitute
his knowledge of flavors and ingredients, cuts and cooking techniques; for a
lawyer, task skills include her understanding of laws and regulations, and
her ability to be persuasive in the courtroom. Domain-relevant skills provide
the initial set of elements (e.g., knowledge, talent, experience) that enter the
‘‘combinatorial game’’ of the creative process. Domain-relevant skills are
determined by innate skills, formal education, and continuous practice
(Amabile, 1996).
Play as engagement with work tasks allows individuals to improve their
domain-relevant skills on the job. Play minimizes the potential for negative
consequences of learning by providing a less risky situation (Bruner, 1972).
This safety stimulates risk taking and learning from errors. In play, one is
less afraid to make mistakes and less inclined to discard them as disturbing
anomalies (Glynn, 1994). Errors are used in play as triggers of exploration
and practice, allowing one to perfect his or her skill and to discover
unnoticed variables or opportunities in some of the most troublesome or
baffling parts of his or her work (Nachmanovitch, 1990;Schrage, 2000). In
doing so, it provides the player with valuable information that enables her to
refine her skill at the task and also broaden the repertoire of skills she has
available to apply to the task.
Furthermore, skill development is facilitated when individuals are
excited about the task, engage in it primarily in order to master it, and
when the task involves an optimal level of challenge (not too difficult which
leads to anxiety, not too easy which leads to boredom; Csikszentmihalyi &
LeFevre, 1989;Deci & Ryan, 1985;Massimini & Delle Fave, 2000). By
uncoupling means from ends, play fosters the exploration of task-related
behaviors and variables which would be less likely to be tried in other
situations, such as when one performs the task to attain an external out-
come. Moreover, the voluntary exercise of control systems in play allows
one not only to select an initial optimal balance between challenges and
skills, but also to gradually adjust the level of optimal balance so as to
continue practicing his or her skills at continuously higher levels of mastery
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Play has, of course, drawbacks and is not a panacea to all forms of
learning. Previous studies have shown that play is not the best way to learn
when efficiency, reliability, and control of the learner are primary concerns
(Glynn, 1994;Sandelands, 1988; Webster & Martocchio, 1992, 1993; see
also Starbuck & Webster, 1991). However, the same studies have shown that
play fosters involvement, exploration, experimentation, flexibility, and qual-
ity in learning, which, as the extant creativity and learning literature sug-
gests, are particularly conducive to developing and refining domain-relevant
skills (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990;Kolb, 1984;Nickerson, 1999).
Play and Creativity Skills
Research has shown that relatively stable individual characteristics influence
creativity. Cognitive style, intelligence, and personality traits all play a role
in determining creative potential (for reviews see Amabile, 1996;Feist,
1999a;Stenberg & O’Hara, 1999). At the same time, individuals can develop
the main cognitive muscles of creativity – divergent thinking and transfor-
mation abilities (Feldman, 1999;Nickerson, 1999). Scratchley and Hakstian
(2000–2001) controlled for the shared variance between divergent thinking
and general intelligence (9%), and found that divergent thinking predicts
managerial creativity but general intelligence does not. Divergent thinking
can be developed (Basadur, Wakabayashi, & Graen, 1990), and play is a
natural way for practicing it (Dansky, 1999;Kolb, 2000;Russ, Robins, &
Christiano, 1999). Play calibrates a disposition for creativity by sharpening
divergent thinking and combinatorial flexibility. When people play,
They first of all may be mastering incidental skills. But, more important, they are using
their capacity to combine pieces of behavior that would have no basis for juxtaposition
in a utilitarian framework. They are creating novelty, however unimposing it might be,
as is the dreamer whom Freud says ‘‘builds castles in the sky.’’ It is the habit of oc-
casionally creating novelty, rather than specific preparation, that makes us seem intel-
ligent when, confronted with a new problem, or a new contingency in ‘‘reality,’’ we have
more than a random chance of marshalling the means at our disposal in a hitherto
useless but now adaptive way. (Miller, 1973, p. 96)
There is no guarantee that what occurs in play is predictably isomorphic
to future environmental demands. The transfer of specific responses from
play to future situations occurs only occasionally. But what matters is the
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 101
discipline of maintaining flexibility in behavior and plasticity in mental
models, and play facilitates these processes. Play allows people to tempo-
rarily suspend their mental models and disbelief in favor of an immediate
exploration of various possibilities (Kolb, 1996). This allows managers to
modify their perceptual limits of the world by imagining and enacting them
in different ways (Barrett, 1998). Of course, individuals can respond cre-
atively to a novel problem without playing. However, the ability to respond
creatively to novel problems does not seem to exist in a vacuum; rather, it
requires some practice which play provides. Weick (1979) writes,
Deliberate complication, if it gives the person experience in combining elements in novel
ways, can be potentially adaptive for dealing with novel problems yPlay is important
not because it teaches some new skill, but because it takes activities that are already in
one’s repertoire and gives one practice in recombining those into novel sets. What seems
to be implied is a kind of second-order learning. It is not that one learns to recombine a
single set of means into a clumsy but passable golf swing; what one may be learning,
instead, is that it is possible to recombine the available repertoire of means in novel ways.
A person gets repeated practice in doing this whenever he or she intentionally compli-
cates a process. (p. 248)
Creativity is a generative adaptive process, and as such, it requires practicing
the skills of creating novelty. Play contributes to an enduring disposition
toward creativity by practicing the main cognitive skills of creativity. In play
people practice framing problems in new ways, exploring alternative solu-
tions, and evaluating different possibilities. In particular, play helps people
to develop divergent thinking skills and transformation abilities (Dansky,
1999). These abilities turn out to be useful even in those situations that are
not playful themselves. When people play, therefore, not only do they fa-
cilitate their creative process in the task at hand, but they also develop a
more enduring disposition toward creativity. Although this is fostered to
some extent by any type or form of play, play as engagement gives indi-
viduals the opportunity to practice and rehearse the creation of novelty
specifically in the context of their work.
We have suggested so far that play as engagement facilitates the cognitive,
affective, motivational, and skill dimensions of creativity. In the next section
we argue that play as diversion influences creativity more indirectly by
shaping a favorable social climate.
Much of our time at work is spent not engaging in work activities, and
sometimes specifically disengaging from work activities. People perform a
variety of personal tasks and leisure activities during the workday, such as
playing computer games or participating in office betting pools (D’Abate,
2004). Traditionally, organizational scholars are tempted to view these play
activities as an inefficiency that diverts attention and effort away from the
core work of the organization. However, these activities form the context in
which people work, and as such, they can influence creativity in an indirect,
peripheral way. Specifically, diversionary play can facilitate creativity by
influencing people’s psychological processes and also by creating a social-
relational and cultural context that is conducive to creativity.
Play and Psychological Adjustment
Diversionary play helps people to adjust psychologically to their work by
facilitating restoratory and compensatory functions. In jobs that involve
physical effort diversionary play can facilitate physical relaxation, and in
jobs that involve cognitive effort diversionary play can facilitate cognitive
restoration. Roy (1959) has found that the diversionary play of manual
workers offers physical relaxation for ‘‘tired legs and sore feet’’ (p. 160),
while Jett and George (2003) and Elsbach and Hargadon (2002) suggest that
diversionary play alleviates the cognitive exhaustion associated with the
otherwise relentlessly mindful jobs of knowledge workers. In knowledge-
intensive jobs, diversionary play provides periods of mental breaks, which
are important for incubation (Elsbach & Hargadon, 2002), the stage of the
creative process that involves much unconscious processing and free re-
combination of ideas.
Play has many forms that offer many possibilities for restoration, which
can help people to return refreshed to the same task or to make a transition
to a new task. In the fast-paced and multi-task modern corporate environ-
ments, employees have to make frequent transitions between different work
tasks. To make transitions effectively, people need to shift cognitive gear
and to prevent the transfer of anxiety, worries, and frustration from one
task to another (Asforth, Kreiner, & Fugate, 2000). Peripheral play offers a
between-and-betwixt context which can facilitate the transition between
tasks by inducing positive affect and by absorbing one’s attention from the
existing task to the play task which makes easier, in turn, the redirection of
attention to the next core work task (Mainemelis, 2001).
Isen (1999) has summarized several empirical studies which show that the
positive affect induced in play on an unrelated task generalizes on subse-
quent core tasks with positive effects on cognitive flexibility, associative
fluency, and idea categorization, all of which facilitate creativity. When play
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 103
is a diversion from work, it may be a welcome relief or a spontaneous
surprise, and may therefore promote an even greater sense of positive affect.
Social psychological studies usually induce positive affect through play; this
testifies to the fact that play may be the most direct and perhaps the most
natural way for people to find a moment of fun or positive surprise in their
workplace and elsewhere.
Of course, whether or not the positive affect induced in diversionary play
increases the likelihood of creativity on the subsequent core work task de-
pends on whether the subsequent work task provides some opportunity for
creativity in the first place. Returning to a less-than-interesting task after a
fun moment of play not only fails to make people more creative (cf. Roy,
1959) but it may also lead to feelings of resentment that ‘playtime’ is over
and therefore create negative affect (Filipowicz, 2003). An important im-
plication of this is that attempting to externally manipulate positive affect in
the workplace through play, for example through parties or other ‘‘fun
times,’’ may actually backfire when people return to a core task that is less
than playful, less than autonomous, and less than creative (Filipowicz,
2003). In contrast, when people return to a core task that provides oppor-
tunities for play as engagement, the risk of this is much less. We suggest later
that it is therefore important to consider the organizational context in which
play as diversion occurs.
Diversionary play also serves compensatory functions. It is a context
which, bounded-off from the execution of core work tasks, allows the ful-
filment of psychological needs that work cannot satisfy or that work itself
creates. Roy’s (1959) study shows that while work in his group was routine
and required little cognitive effort, diversionary play satisfied needs for fun
and excitement and filled their days with intellectual content and imagina-
tion. On the other hand, the diversionary play of Locke’s (1996, 1989)
sample of highly educated physicians in a clinic of seriously ill children was
not primarily focused on intellectual themes. It revolved more around
themes of bonding, intimacy, and optimism, which helped the medical
practitioners and their patients to adjust psychologically to their daily con-
tact with fear, pain, and death. While in Roy’s study diversionary play
compensated for needs related to an environment of low-task significance,
low-task variety, and low-task complexity, in Locke’s studies diversionary
play compensated for needs associated with highly challenging, highly
meaningful, and highly complex work. As we suggest later on, job com-
plexity is a critical factor in understanding the relationship between play as
engagement and play as a diversion in organizations.
Play and the Social Context
The social context in which an individual works influences creativity
(Amabile, 1988;Madjar, Oldham, & Pratt, 2002;Perry-Smith & Shalley,
2003). Diversionary play forms part of this larger work context and influ-
ences the nature of social relations within the organization. By creating
social bonds between members of the organization, diversionary play makes
individuals more willing to engage in the creative process, and more able to
gain useful inputs into the creative process from others. Diversionary play
achieves these effects by strengthening psychological safety, by countering
cultural resistance to creativity, and by increasing the flow of diverse in-
formation through social networks.
Play and Psychological Safety
Diversionary play often blurs the lines of hierarchical relationships by free-
ing people from the normal roles and expected behaviors of the workplace
(Falassi, 1987;Locke, 1989;Tuner, 1982), and giving them an opportunity
to relate personally to one another in a time and space that is free from the
pressure of work. For example, when organizational members play together
on the corporate softball team, a secretary may be the team manager, while
the boss is a player, allowing them to transcend their working relationship
and develop an informal social bond. By altering the nature of relationships
and enabling people to relate personally to one another, play helps organ-
izational members to feel comfortable with and trust one another. Informal
social play helps people connect to a broader entity – such as their work
group, their department, or the organization at large – that provides them
with a sense of belonging (Dandridge, 1986;Dutton, Dukerich, & Harquail,
1994;Marotto, Statler, Victor, & Roos, 2003). Inclusion in informal social
play lets group members know that they are part of the group (Duncan,
Smeltzer, & Leap, 1990;Roy, 1959), preventing them in that way from
feeling alienated (Boland & Hoffman, 1983).
The result is that play superimposes organic personal relationships upon
mechanistic work relationships (Locke, 1989). The benefit for creativity is
increased psychological safety for experimenting with diverse ideas and
processes. Psychological safety is the belief that one is free from evaluation,
and that one will be accepted unconditionally, regardless of how he behaves
in a given situation (Rogers, 1954). Psychological safety reduces the anxiety
and fear of negative evaluation for risky interpersonal behaviors, such as
experimenting, asking questions, and suggesting new ideas (Edmondson,
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 105
1999;Rogers, 1954), which are necessarily involved in the creative process.
Diversionary play makes people more willing to engage in creative behavior
by helping them to build trusting relationships with colleagues. Although
diversionary play is not the only way to create such bonds in the workplace,
it is one of the most common and perhaps most important ways for people
to create informal personal bonds in organizations and in other contexts of
social life (Sandelands, 2003).
Play and Organizational Culture
Diversionary play is a central aspect of organizational culture. The values
and beliefs of an organization are exhibited through organizational myths or
legends that are passed on to new members about the organization’s leader
(Deal & Kennedy, 1982) or through ceremonies celebrating specific values
like excellence or speed (Dandridge, 1986;Pfeffer, 1981). Play demonstrates
values in a way that is more vivid and concrete, and therefore more per-
suasive and memorable, than the direct communication of mission state-
ments or corporate releases (Meyer, 1982;Wilkins, 1983). Socially relating
these myths or stories to one another may become a form of diversionary
social play, particularly as stories become embellished or even mocked.
Highly formalized, sequential socialization processes (Van Maanen, 1978)
that aim to communicate corporate information in a sober and prescribed
way may become the subject of ridicule or teasing in informal interactions,
which may undermine their message. This creates an alternative that resists
the existing order of the social system and provides an opportunity for
creative action.
Social play allows organizational members to safely express conflicts and
tensions that may otherwise disrupt their relationships (Anand & Watson,
2004;Dandridge, 1986;Deal & Kennedy, 1982). Because it is inherently
ambiguous and subjective, play also enables the experimentation with mul-
tiple frames of interpretation, thereby allowing the culture to simultaneously
value the conflicting ideals that are pervasive in organizational life (Boland &
Hoffman, 1983;Pondy, 1983). These contradictory attributes of play allow
organizational members to develop a sense of the organizational culture
that is personally meaningful, because it is both clear and subjective.
A great deal of creative action in organizations can spark from such play
contexts that question the dominant organizational mindsets.
Diversionary play facilitates the formation of sub-cultures that may offer
an impetus for cultural change. In work contexts with excessive social
pressures for conformity (Nemeth, 1997), social play is often the only
channel available to employees for voicing disagreement, doubt, and even
frustration. Locke (1989) writes that employees find in informal social play
an illicit voice for criticism, dissent, and autonomy, and an impudent voice
that crosses hierarchical lines, ‘‘breaks the social restraints on expressive
content’’ and verbalizes ‘‘those sentiments inappropriate to their role iden-
tities’’ (pp. 116–117). Although the expression of such feelings through play
does not guarantee creativity, it provides an impetus for creativity. Crea-
tivity is next to unthinkable unless one is willing to entertain alternative
perspectives to the dominant interpretations of organizational realities and
to express these views to others (Nemeth, 1997;Staw, 1995). In highly co-
hesive organizations, where social pressures for conformity and behavioral
consistency rule, diversionary play can foster creativity by nurturing an
informal social space that supports the creation and expression of alter-
native interpretations to the dominant organizational realities, mindsets,
and processes.
At the other end of spectrum, firms with a commitment to creativity often
embrace and legitimize diversionary play in explicit ways. Isaksen, Lauer,
Ekvall, and Britz (2000–2001) found that organizations that embrace di-
versionary play tend to be more creative than those that do not. By en-
couraging diversionary play, such organizations encourage in fact the free
expression and exchange of diverse ideas and varied perspectives to the
dynamics of the workplace. A useful reminder here is that creativity has
historically reached its peak in eras and cultures that embraced play and
perceived it as anything but frivolous or useless (Barron, Montuori, &
Barron, 1997;Csikszentmihalyi, 1997;Gardner, 1993;Mainemelis, 2002).
For example, the social, intellectual, and scientific breakthroughs of classical
Athens or of Italy in the Renaissance took place in social contexts where
theater, sports, and other forms of social play flourished and were perceived
not as trivial pastimes but as key cultural institutions that gave expression to
the ideals, norms, and conflicts of the social system. From this point of view,
playful organizational cultures do not appear to be idiosyncratic historical
exceptions. Rather, across cultures and eras, there appears to be a link
between a social system’s willingness to nurture play and its ability to be
creative. An organizational culture that supports diversionary play appears
to be serving this function in modern organizations.
Play and Social Networks
Diversionary play facilitates the creation and maintenance of weak social
network ties to other members of the organization as well as to colleagues
outside the organization. Playful interactions, social gatherings, and hobbies
among colleagues are the rule rather than the exception of professional life.
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 107
Furthermore, play can help one to initiate informal social contact with
strangers he or she encounters in the daily course of work, especially when
the situation would otherwise be stressful or uncomfortable. For example,
doctors use playful, humorous interactions to introduce themselves to crit-
ically ill children, who are likely to be filled with anxiety (Locke, 1989).
Play can also help organizational members who rarely interact to create
and maintain a social bond by increasing the number of interactions be-
tween them. These weak network ties enhance creativity by giving people
access to more remote information and more diverse perspectives, without
promoting the type of conformity that may occur in closer groups (Burt,
2004;Granovetter, 1973;Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003). Diversionary play
also breaks down the barriers between isolated functional areas (Kelley &
Litman, 2001), providing a forum for individuals who normally would have
no reason to come into contact with each other to meet, and in doing so,
provides an opportunity to initiate learning from those outside one’s main
functional area. Once people have made these contacts, they may incorpo-
rate them into work routines, particularly on ambiguous creative tasks that
can benefit from diverse information and resources (Starbuck & Webster,
1991). Thus, diversionary play loosely connects organizational members to
one another in a way that gives them access to diverse perspectives, diverse
information, and other important creative inputs.
One boundary condition on the relationships we have examined so far is
that the nature of diversionary play must be social. Solitary diversionary
play, such as playing a computer game on one’s work PC, may have other
benefits for individuals in an organization – for example, providing them
with a break from cognitively demanding work (Elsbach & Hargadon, 2002)
– but will have limited effect on the social processes of the work environ-
ment. However, social interactions provide broad scope for diversionary
social play and occur frequently in organizations (Sandelands, 2003).
Given that play is not a set of activities but a behavioral orientation to any
activity, what conditions influence the likelihood that individuals will em-
ploy the play orientation to perform an activity in the workplace? In this
section we suggest that job complexity, environmental threat, a legitimate
organizational time and space for play, and individual differences are four
important factors that influence the likelihood of play in a work setting.
Job Complexity
The nature of the job itself is an important factor that influences the like-
lihood of play as engagement in organizations. Jobs with higher levels of
autonomy, greater complexity, and skill variety (Hackman & Oldham, 1980)
will encourage play as engagement. Individuals with a high degree of au-
tonomy have the discretion to choose strategies for accomplishing tasks and
to schedule work without supervisory restriction, and therefore a greater
opportunity to engage in play. These elements should allow them to expe-
rience higher levels of affective pleasure while performing tasks. Task com-
plexity and skill variety enhance these effects. Because complex tasks have
high informational requirements and lack clear means-end relationships
(Campbell, 1988), they are inherently ambiguous and require flexibility, ex-
perimentation, and cognitive processing. These sorts of tasks leave open the
possibility for creative engagement and play, as one searches for the best
approach to the task (Amabile, 1988;Shalley et al., 2004).
Recall that uncertainty, fluidity, and relative freedom from external con-
straint are key elements of play. When a job is rigidly structured, efficiently
standardized, and clearly streamlined in advance, play as engagement is
much less likely. Roy (1959) found that people tried to play even with
routine tasks but that did not make them more creative. We view job com-
plexity as an antecedent rather than a moderator of play because, as Roy’s
(1959) study has also shown, routine and monotonous tasks cannot sustain
play beyond a few hours or a few days. In his study, people quickly took
their play elsewhere – to their interactions during work breaks (diversionary
play). Therefore, we view job complexity both as an antecedent of play as
engagement and as an important factor in explaining the relative balance
between play as engagement and play as diversion in an organizational
setting. In work environments characterized by routine and monotonous
work, we expect people to engage primarily in diversionary play. In low job
complexity work environments diversionary play compensates for what
work cannot provide (e.g., fun, challenge, intellectual stimulation). In such
environments, however, we expect diversionary play to have little or no
direct effect on people’s creativity on their work tasks, because the work
tasks themselves do not require or allow creative thinking.
On the other
hand, high job complexity environments increase the likelihood of play as
engagement, which increases, in turn, the likelihood of people’s creativity on
their work tasks through the cognitive, affective, motivational, and skill
conditions we have discussed in an earlier section.
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 109
For highly autonomous professionals in cognitively complex jobs the
boundaries between play as diversion and play as engagement may become
blurred. A social scientist who on a Saturday evening visits the opera, a
theater, or a sports game, may obtain a wealth of information and inspi-
ration for his or her research on the role of emotions in work group in-
teractions; a dinner party at a restaurant may provide an interior designer
with ideas and insights about designing restaurants. These examples illus-
trate that the creative mind does not stop working at the end of the workday
but, rather, transcends and blurs the boundaries between ‘‘work’’ and ‘‘non-
work.’’ As a result, it may also blur the distinctions between play as
engagement and play as diversion. In a series of interviews with creative
individuals, Csikszentmihalyi (1997) found that the most rewarding aspect
of their jobs was that their work was also their passion and hobby, and vice
versa. Similarly, in a study with 589 employees, Abramis (1990) found that
many reported that their work provides them with a salary for exercising
their hobbies. Kelley and Littman (2001) also discuss the tendency of some
sport retailers to hire sales employees who have a personal passion for
playing sports.
While in these cases play as diversion and play as engagement may ac-
tually become blurred, our formal distinction between the two is anything
but arbitrary. For many people in organizations what is work, what is not
work, and where they can find play is a clear rather than an ambiguous
question. Furthermore, the distinction between play as diversion and play as
engagement is important in theoretical terms because play as engagement
and play as diversion affect creativity in different ways, as discussed earlier.
Environmental Threat
Play rarely occurs under conditions of external threat (Bruner, 1972). Hu-
mans and animals alike rarely play when their survival is at stake. In or-
ganizations, changes in the environment lead to changes in strategies and
procedures as managers interpret environmental events and translate them
into action (Dutton & Jackson, 1987). Environmental threats are negative
situations that cannot be easily controlled and that contain the potential for
loss, such as threat in the competitive environment, decreases in market size,
or scarcity of resources (Staw, Sandelands, & Dutton, 1981). Organizations
respond to macro-environmental threat with rigid cognitive and behavioral
responses (Staw et. al., 1981). They tend to rely on previously learned
knowledge and have a reduced ability to process new and ambiguous
information. Under threat, organizations also tend to increase their degree
of control by formalizing procedures, by centralizing authority, and by try-
ing to conserve their resources.
These changes limit the opportunities individuals have to play with their
work. Under threat, organizations will eliminate slack both in terms of time
and other resources, so that work must be accomplished more efficiently and
on budget. There will be no time available for experimentation, and no
budgetary slack to support ‘‘wanderings’’ or uncertain tests. These changes
will also decrease the likelihood of play as engagement by making it less safe
in psychological terms. Changes such as reducing individual autonomy as
authority becomes centralized, reining in individual budgets, and reducing
expenditures through, for example, downsizing, will create an environment
of anxiety and even fear with employees (Amabile & Conti, 1999). When
individuals experience high levels of stress and anxiety, they tend to stick to
previously learned behaviors and become less flexible in their responses to
problems (Luchins, 1942;Staw et al., 1981). Thus, individuals in organi-
zations under threat will likely feel that it is not safe to play with their work
tasks. Although some diversionary play may be entertained during periods
of crisis and threat, play as engagement is highly likely to suffer.
Time and Space for Play
Societies historically institutionalize play by providing a space and time that
legitimizes the expression of behaviors that society normally discourages or
forbids. For example, while hypocrisy is normally seen as an immoral and
deviant behavior in society, it is encouraged and colorfully celebrated within
the space and time of the theater (Turner, 1982). Organizations can nurture
play in the same way. Companies like Google and DuPont permit their
employees to use up to 20% of their work time to freely explore ideas they
are curious about. Such practices legitimize play as engagement and make it
safe and sustainable over relatively long periods of time. A work behavior
that is normally discouraged, for example working on an idea that is not a
part of one’s job description or not linked to any obvious organizational
strategy, is now encouraged and supported within the protected and clearly
delineated space and time of play. Although practices like the 20% ‘‘free-
time’’ rule are not synonymous with play (for individuals must be willing to
play as well), they certainly encourage and protect it.
Other practices can provide a space and time for play. Schrage (2000)
describes simulations as ‘‘transitional theaters’’ where the suspension of
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 111
disbelief turns ends into means, and Abramis (1990) writes about the pres-
ident of a company who used to convert strategic planning sessions into a
game in which top managers played their own roles, as well as the roles of
their competitors and regulatory agencies. While such practices may take
different forms (e.g., free-time, simulations, scenarios, role-plays), they can
all stimulate play as engagement, as long as they temporarily suspend nor-
mal organizational rules (March, 1976) and other pressures for consistency
and efficiency (Nemeth, 1997).
Several of the benefits of play emanate from the fact that play is not
efficient, predictable, or streamlined but, rather, flexible, uncertain, and of-
ten erratic. Because these qualities of play have organizational costs, an
important function of a legitimate space and time is that it contains to some
extent these risks and costs associated with play behavior. Organizational
members are less likely to play when they perceive that their managers will
punish them for potential accidents or errors associated with play behavior.
Organizational members are more likely to engage in play within a clear
delineated time and space that temporarily suspends normal rules and en-
courages them to play without worrying about consequences. Managers, on
their part, are less likely to encourage play when they are concerned about
the inefficiency and potential errors associated with play behavior. Man-
agers are more likely to encourage play when they feel confident that the
potential costs of play behavior are bounded within a legitimate time and
space that does not interfere with the ability of the organization to pursue
fixed goals in an efficient and streamlined way. A legitimate time and space
therefore makes play safe, or safer, both for the organization and its mem-
bers. March (1976) writes,
Playfulness is the deliberate, temporary relaxation of rules in order to explore the pos-
sibilities of alternative rules. When we are playful, we challenge the necessity of con-
sistency. In effect, we announce – in advance – our rejection of the usual objections to
behavior that does not fit the standard model of intelligence. Playfulness allows exper-
imentation. At the same time, it acknowledges reason. It accepts an obligation that at
some point either the playful behavior will be stopped or it will be integrated into the
structure of intelligence in some way that it makes sense. The suspension of the rules is
temporary (p. 77). We encourage organizational play by permitting (and insisting on)
some temporary relief from control, coordination, and communication (p. 81).
Organizations can also provide a time and space for diversionary play.
Providing a time and space for play to be a diversion from work will pro-
mote a culture in which play and creativity can flourish, as long as the
job itself requires and invites creativity. This time and space can be both
physical and psychological. Many companies provide physical space and
time for diversionary play by having corporate off-sites, office birthday
parties, or in-house gyms or relaxation rooms. More importantly, however,
people must psychologically feel safe to take advantage of these, or to make
their own time and space for playful diversions. This safety is created when
the organization develops a culture that recognizes and values play. For
example, by decorating its workspace with foam cubes and other artifacts
(Kelley & Littman, 2001), IDEO stimulates and encourages play by sending
a clear message to employees that taking a break to play is allowed. Thus, by
providing a physical space for play, IDEO also enables employees to create
their own psychological space for play.
Individual Differences
Individual differences is another factor that influences play behavior in or-
ganizations. The term playfulness refers to the predisposition to engage in an
activity as play. Jackson (1984) measured playfulness with the Personality
Research Form (RPF) as a stable individual-difference motivational trait.
Costa and McRae (1988) found small positive correlations between the
playfulness scale of the RPF and the scales of the NEO inventory that assess
the personality traits of fantasy, positive emotions, experimental actions,
liberal values, gregariousness, and warmth. They also found that playfulness
has a small negative correlation with age, is not associated with education,
and that females are more playful than males. Glynn and Webster
(1992) developed the Adult Playfulness Scale (APS) and found that it is
positively related to cognitive spontaneity, creativity, positive task evalua-
tions, involvement, and quality of performance, and negatively related to a
quantitative functional orientation. Clerical employees scored higher on
playfulness than staff employees, and no consistent differences were found
in terms of age and gender.
While these instruments are useful toward exploring individual differences
in the degree to which people are predisposed to play, they entail some
narrow or conflicting assumptions. The RPF views playfulness as ‘logical’
and ‘rational,’ but play can be irrational or arational. The APS views play-
fulness as the opposite of reason, but playing chess does not seem to be the
opposite of reason. While in the APS playfulness involves a preference for
social interaction rather than for solitary activity, acclaimed studies have
shown that individuals often engage in solitary play (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi,
1997). Our view is that play is polymorphous, which implies that individuals
may vary also in terms of how they like to play and at what level of
social interaction. While there is little research in this area, this hypothesis is
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 113
reasonable. Is the chemist who shuts herself in the lab to play alone with
ideas also predisposed to play socially in ‘fun times’? Is a propensity for
fantasy higher in those who frequent casinos? Are the people who play
games that stress individual differences (e.g., sports, chess) more likely to
play games that stress chance (e.g., lottery)? Perhaps how people are pre-
disposed to play is equally, if not more, important than how much. Indi-
vidual differences, therefore, influence not only the overall degree to which
people play, but also the form of play and the level of social interaction at
which people prefer to play.
In the previous sections we employed a highly analytical approach. We have
first disentangled the basic elements of play and the basic elements of cre-
ativity, and then we compared the two classes of elements so as to articulate
the cognitive, affective, motivational, and social-relational mechanisms
through which play affects creativity. In this section we synthesize our ar-
guments at a higher level of abstraction, and in relation to two additional
discussion anchors. First, given that play is a behavioral orientation to any
activity, what are some other behavioral orientations and how do they
compare with play in terms of creativity? Second, given that our model
operates primarily at the micro level, what would the nexus of our argu-
ments look like at the larger organizational level?
With regard to the first question, play is antithetical to four other be-
havioral orientations: apathy; consummatory behavior; instrumental action
leading detectably to consummatory behavior, or to a detectable goal that is
extrinsic to the behavior itself; and socially prescribed behavior when the
behavior occurs in a context in which the prescription is socially sanctioned
and enforced (Klinger, 1971). It would hardly be controversial to state that
60 years after the inauguration of creativity research (Guilford, 1950) there
is no evidence that apathy, consummatory, or socially prescribed forms of
behavior facilitate creativity. On the contrary, the extant literature suggests
that creativity requires affective pleasure and involvement, resisting imme-
diate gratification and premature closure, and psychological safety to
deviate from socially prescribed behaviors and ordinary conventions. In-
strumental action does not necessarily hurt creativity, but as we write ear-
lier, in and of itself it is not particularly useful either (Amabile, 1996).
The problem is that, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution,
the juxtaposition of instrumental action, socially prescribed and enforced
behavior, and often apathy, has left a strong imprint upon the very idea of
work in organizations. Efficient, standardized, and routinized work, en-
forced by social controls, and performed with dreadful boredom is exactly
what Roy (1959) described 50 years ago. In his study, there was a clear and
sharp line dividing play and work. The same line divided work and creativity
for the latter was not even possible for his subjects. But creativity is the
requirement of many types of work today; and this is where play becomes
important, not as the point at which work stops, but as the point in which
work originates.
Our literature describes play and work not as two sets of activities but as
two antithetical behavioral orientations distinguished in terms of how the
means and ends of any activity are handled (e.g., Glynn, 1994;Sandelands,
1988). Play is characterized by uncertainty-freedom-constraint and the loose
and flexible association between means and ends; in fact, Webster’s (1998)
dictionary defines play as ‘‘to move lightly, rapidly, or erratically; yto
amuse oneself; yto move freely within limits.’’ Work, on the other hand, is
an instrumental orientation where the means are used to efficiently accom-
modate ends fixed in advance (March, 1976;Miller, 1973). That being the
case, we may ask if at any given moment in time an activity in the workplace
is either play or work (Glynn, 1994;Sandelands, 1988). It is unreasonable,
however, to assume that the months or years of ‘‘moments’’ invested in
discovering a treatment for cancer or in developing an advertising campaign
are only play or only work. The very definition of work as an ends-
orientated activity implies that the ends are known in advance. In creative
industries, however, the ends are often so vague that one cannot know and
pursue them without exploring ‘‘freely and erratically within limits.’’ To
work, one must have a purpose; to do creative work, one must move freely
and erratically so as to discover and understand what is the purpose. From
this point of view, the very purpose of work is often invented in play.
Roy’s (1959) subjects did not play with their tasks because their tasks
were fixed and efficiently streamlined in advance. But in creative industries
the ends are only occasionally fixed in advance, and even when the ends are
fixed in advance either the means are unclear and/or efficiency is rarely the
major requirement. For example, if the task were to advertise a new car,
the most efficient and streamlined orientation to the task would be to copy
the existing campaign of an older car. This is hardly what you call work in
advertising. When creativity is a requirement, the imperative is often to
match means and ends not in an efficient or known way but in a surprising
and unexpected way; which is to say, to intentionally complicate the activity
– to play with the various possible configurations between means and ends.
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 115
In our ‘‘closet’’ research we have observed animation professionals in a
broadcasting corporation whose job was to create fictional stories for chil-
dren’s television. Occasionally, they took flights of fancy, laughed, and
fantasized ludicrously about seven-legged creatures, green zebras, and
sharks flying in space shuttles. Is this play or work? It is play that creates
work. It is a fluid between-and-betwixt world that generates a rich variety of
characters, imagery, plots, and symbolism, some of which will later become
the building blocks of work products in such organizational contexts.
During the last two decades, organizational research has focused on
identifying personal, contextual, and situational determinants of creativity.
An interesting question is what contexts of behaviors can simultaneously
encompass all these diverse factors. In previous sections we have analyzed
these factors and compared them with the elements of play to suggest that
play may be in fact the only context of behavior that serves this function. In
other words, we believe that, more often than not, creativity is born out of
play. This statement may seem surprising when considering that play has
historically been seen as a useless or even dangerous behavior in the work-
place. However, a useful reminder here is that creativity itself has become
important for organizations only in recent years. In fact, prior to the
publication of Amabile’s (1988) componential theory there was very little
organizational research about creativity. Although today we know a lot
about creativity, and although the modern work culture vividly celebrates
the notions of ‘‘creativity’’ and ‘‘innovation’’ in general, it appears that
actually nurturing creativity in practice is a difficult puzzle for most organ-
izations, especially large, established firms (Dougherty & Heller, 1994;Staw,
1995). We believe that nurturing play in the workplace is an aspect of the
same puzzle.
The very idea of a social organization implies order (Weick, 1998), which
requires to some extent the control of behavior according to social pre-
scriptions and rules. Organizations also have to balance immediate prolif-
eration (by efficiently meeting instrumental ends) with future adaptation,
which requires them to cultivate creativity and the ability to adapt flexibly to
change (March, 1991). It would be instructive to consider how societies, as
larger scale social systems, historically tackle this puzzle. Turner (1982) and
Sutton-Smith (1997) have proposed that cultures historically balance these
competing demands by maintaining two different social structures: a nor-
mative structure, a working equilibrium of roles, norms, rules, and structural
obligations; and a proto-structure, a play-space of latent potential
from which novelty can arise. Play temporarily dissolves the normative
structure, frees people from structural obligations, and fosters novelty by
defamiliarizing the elements of the familiar (Turner, 1982). Play gives birth
to new ideas, which, once rehearsed, may become part of the normative
structure and lose their playful character. Play itself, however, maintains its
capacity to produce novelty.
Huizinga (1955) traced the roots of most western institutions to the world
of play. He notes, for instance, that the idea of fair play – the pursuit of
mastery and excellence within a set of fixed and equal rules – first appeared
in the Olympic Games two centuries before it became a principle of a new
political system, democracy; and that the idea of betting on future poten-
tialities of non-economic nature, including life and death, was first played in
the Middle Ages as an infamous and even illegal game many centuries
before it was transformed to a legitimate new business, life insurance. Entire
industries, like aerospace engineering (Jacab, 1999), and companies, like
Harley-Davidson, were born by the play of their founders rather than by
planned instrumental activity: ‘‘One could say that the whole of Silicon
Valley stems from gangs of young men who carried on playing together
beyond their college years’’ (Nicholson, 2000, p. 179).
Work organizations as well can, and some times do, maintain such proto-
structures. March (1976) argues that organizations are built upon three
interrelated assumptions: the pre-existence of purpose, the primacy of con-
sistency, and the primacy of rationality in human behavior. These three
assumptions have improved the ability of organizations and their members
to act purposively, consistently, and rationally, but the side effect is that
they may lead to rigidity and adaptive failure in the long run. These as-
sumptions strengthen the ability of the organization to flourish in the
present but comprise its ability to create variability so as to adapt flexibly to
change (March, 1991). It seems rational to consistently reproduce successful
behaviors but this reduces variability because it results in a bias against
alternatives that initially may appear to be worse than they actually are
(Audia, Locke, & Smith, 2000;Denrell & March, 2001). A behavior that is
successful in adaptive terms today may actually be ineffective or even dan-
gerous tomorrow when the environment changes.
Organizations can prevent such problems by giving license to people to
play with their work, temporarily freed from the rules of consistency, com-
mand, and control. The role of play is not to abolish purpose, consistency,
and rationality from organizational life; rather, the role of play is to
help organizations maintain more flexible and more sophisticated forms of
consistency by encouraging their members to occasionally experiment
with possible realities, behaviors, or identities (Barrett, 1998;March, 1976;
Weick, 1979).
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 117
We view the normative organizational structure as consisting of rules,
norms, and pressures for behavioral consistency; functional pressures;
structural obligations; and a bias toward pursuing a pre-existing purpose by
rationally accommodating means to ends. We have suggested that organ-
izations can maintain a proto-structure and nurture play in two ways. First,
delineating a space and time that legitimately, if temporarily, dissolves the
normative structure is the most direct way for an organization to stimulate
play; it is also the organizational structural analogue to what cultures
have been doing throughout the course of civilization. Second, by providing
freedom and stimulating work, which allow individuals to create their
own play spaces within their workday. The boundaries of play in this case
are not conspicuously institutionalized but are determined at individuals’
discretion. Of course, individuals can also take the initiative and play, for
example, by taking work home or by staying late at work, even when their
organization does not support play (Pinchot, 1985). Similarly, diversionary
play can occur spontaneously among colleagues be it within or out of the
regular word day. These ways of enabling play are not mutually exclusive
but may coexist.
In addition, we have argued that play facilitates creativity in three general
ways. First, we have suggested that play as engagement with work tasks
increases the likelihood of creativity in relation to the problem or task at
hand via cognitive, affective, and motivational mechanisms. Play may gen-
erate new ideas for products or processes, which may then enter the nor-
mative structure and lose their playful character. For example, an industrial
designer may generate in play a new idea for a toy or a mobile phone, but
once this idea enters the normative organizational structure it will likely be
manufactured in a streamlined, efficient, standardized, and routinized way.
Play itself, however, maintains its capacity to produce novelty, that is, in-
dustrial designers can generate through play more new ideas for products.
Second, we have suggested that play as engagement also develops an en-
during disposition toward creativity. Play allows organizational members to
practice the cognitive muscles of creativity, and by doing so, to strengthen
their ability to respond creatively to future environmental demands. Play
achieves this effect by providing a context in which people can practice the
free recombination of their skills, experiences, and very perceptions of re-
ality. Finally, we have argued that, by increasing psychological safety, by
strengthening a culture’s tolerance for new ideas, by offering to employees a
channel for expressing disagreement and dissent, and by increasing the flow
of diverse information through social networks, play as diversion contrib-
utes to the creation of a social context that is conducive to creativity.
Furthermore, play also generates many ideas that are inapplicable. These
ideas may reenter the play world for further refinement or they may stay in
the play world forever. This is sheer inefficiency, however, it is the type of
inefficiency that creativity requires: to discover one idea that is original and
useful, one has to generate variance – several ideas that are original but not
useful or applicable. We cite earlier a passage in which Albert Einstein
suggests that creativity is a ‘‘combinatorial play’’ where the existing ele-
ments of thought are freely combined to produce a large number of asso-
ciations. Creativity depends on novelty, and novelty depends on such
cognitive variation: the more and the more diverse cognitive elements are
combined to solve a problem, the more original the solution will be
(Simonton, 1999). We suggest earlier that, through both cognitive and af-
fective mechanisms, play increases both the number and the diversity of
cognitive elements that enter the creative process. Play is powerful precisely
because in it people suspend disbelief and explore ideas that may seem at
first unrealistic or improbable. The fact that many of them turn out to
indeed be unrealistic or improbable should be viewed as a necessity, not a
problem. While the cost of play is inefficiency, errors, or dead ends, the cost
of not playing may actually be even more severe to organizations whose
survival and prosperity depend on creative ability. By constraining play,
such organizations may actually be constraining the creative process itself.
New ideas usually encounter resistance or rejection in the workplace
(Dougherty & Heller, 1994; see also Amabile et al., 2005). Organizational
resistance may be directed at constraining exploration in the first place or at
questioning the commercial viability of a new idea once exploration is over.
While the latter form of resistance is true and inevitable to some extent for
the majority of new ideas in the stock market of organizational creativity,
the former is disastrous for creativity because it blocks creativity before it
can even begin. An important implication of this is that, although the ideas
that emerge from the time and space of play may not be embraced by the
organization for a while, or they may not be embraced at all, encouraging
play allows the organization to cultivate a pool of numerous and diverse
ideas for new products, processes, or solutions.
Fundamentally, the inefficiency and novelty of play raise a question of
balance – a balance that is difficult to find when considering how easily the
standard assumptions of rationality, consistency, and fixed purpose can
drive out play from an organizational setting (Benner & Tushman, 2003;
March, 1993). From this point of view, the tendency of some organizations
to legitimize a time and space for play is not surprising. By developing rules
about play (such as demanding that people spend 10 or 20% of their time
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 119
experimenting), organizations can control the degree of inefficiency. A le-
gitimate space and time serves this dual function: it contains to some extent
the negative consequences of play while, at the same time, it nurtures and
protects play from the functional pressures, structural obligations, and so-
cial pressures of the workplace. We also reiterate that such practices in and
of themselves do not constitute play for individuals must be willing to play
with their work as well.
Illustrative Examples
Pinchot (1985) has discussed several examples where a legitimate organi-
zational time and space for play has led directly to creative ideas for new
products, including the invention of the fiber Kevlar, one of the most suc-
cessful and profitable innovations in DuPont over the years. Kevlar was
invented when a team explored the idea in ‘‘free-time’’ for six months.
During this period, no one else knew anything about the project. When
asked why she kept the project secret, the chief chemist replied, ‘‘It was my
job to spend some of my time exploring new ideas on my own. I did not need
anyone’s permission’’ (Pinchot, 1985, p. 212). Engineers at Google as well
are expected to spend 20% of their time on non-core projects. They are
encouraged to explore new products without allowing profitability or mar-
ketability to hinder their product-development efforts. Google CEO Eric
Schmidt claims that most of the company’s new products are not part of
a strategic vision for the organization but result from these side projects
(Batelle, 2005). O’Reilly and Rao (1997) mention Pfizer as an example of an
organization that encourages play by pressing researchers not to fall into the
common trap of concentrating in areas where they are familiar and com-
fortable but to stretch, instead, into new areas and approaches.
Deutschman (2004) has described the invention of the Elixir guitar strings
at Gore. In one of Gore’s medical products plants, an engineer took ad-
vantage of ‘‘free-time’’ to improve the gears of his mountain bike, inventing
in that way Gore’s ‘‘Ride-On’’ line of bike cables. Then he used that idea to
develop cables that control the movement of oversized puppets in such
places as Disney World, using guitar strings to control the movements.
When he noticed that the guitar strings easily broke, he asked how he could
develop less-brittle guitar strings. He teamed-up with a colleague who was
an amateur musician and another colleague who helped develop Gore’s
non-breakable ‘‘Glide’’ dental floss. They played together for five years, in
Gore’s ‘‘free-time’’ and in their own free time, without ‘‘asking for anyone’s
permission or being subjected to any kind of oversight’’ (p. 61). According
to Deutschman (2004), today Gore controls 35% of the acoustic guitar
strings market, although Gore had absolutely nothing to do with the music
market prior to this invention.
These cases of creativity are next to inconceivable from the point of view
of rationality, consistency, and fixed purpose that have long dom-
inated management thinking. In the modern corporate contexts where time
pressures and fixed ends rule, how can firms support the five-year-long
exploration of a new product when the product itself is not known or when
the idea behind the product keeps on changing all the time? How do you
invent a non-breakable guitar string when your original purpose was to
improve bike gears? When guitar strings, bike gears, and your own bike are
not part of the activities at a medical products plant? How do you become
the leader in the guitar strings market when you are not in that market and
have not even considered entering it? When there is nothing in the identity,
strategy, vision, or competence of the organization that actually points to
that direction?
In our view, the answer to these questions is ‘‘by playing.’’ By tempo-
rarily suspending functional pressures, structural obligations, and pressures
for conformity and consistency, play delineates a transitional space, a be-
tween-and-betwixt world, in which organizational members explore and
experiment with new variables, behaviors, or identities which may not seem
immediately useful in generating products or solutions. By generating such
variety in ideas and products, play leads to a more diverse set of options
from which some get selected into our organizations and society (Campbell,
1960;Simonton, 1999). This play space thus functions as the cradle of cre-
ativity by allowing individuals to rehearse the production of novelty, to
build a reservoir of adaptive responses that may turn out to be quite useful
in the future, and also to generate creative ideas – new work for the future.
In this paper, we have defined play as an orientation consisting of five
elements: a threshold experience; boundaries in time and space; uncertainty-
freedom-constraint; a loose and flexible association between means and end;
and positive affect. We have drawn a distinction between two organizational
manifestations of play, play as engagement and play as diversion. We have
argued that play as engagement facilitates the cognitive, affective, motiva-
tional, and skill dimensions of the creative processes, while play as diversion
fosters a psychological and social-relational climate that is conducive to
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 121
creativity. We have discussed four conditions that facilitate or inhibit play,
namely, job complexity, environmental threat, a legitimate organizational
time and space for play, and individual differences, as well as the relation-
ship between play as engagement and play as diversion. Finally, we have
synthesized our arguments to conceptualize play as an organizational space
of novelty potential. There are limitations, omissions, as well as contribu-
tions in our approach.
First, we have not addressed the epistemological debates surrounding the
definition of play (cf. Sutton-Smith, 1997). However, previous organiza-
tional authors have discussed play without defining it (e.g., Amabile, 1996;
Roy, 1959) or by focusing only on one or two of its elements (e.g., Glynn,
1994;Sandelands, 1988;Weick, 1979). While we reiterate that play is elusive,
complex, and continues to defy a concise and broadly accepted definition,
we have developed here a detailed definition of play that is well-anchored in
influential works from diverse social science literatures.
Second, play can be defined not only at the behavioral but also at the
evolutionary and cultural levels. Play is a fundamental human function
whose manifestation is not limited to any gender, race, age, culture, or era
(Huizinga, 1955). Play is at first a kind of biological, pre-linguistic enact-
ment that places its own demands on human existence across cultures and
eras (Sutton-Smith, 1997). Before it becomes a hobby or a game, play is a
natural impulse – an evolutionary endowment to humans that lasts from
childhood to senility (Sandelands, 1988). Furthermore, while the play im-
pulse is a gift of nature, the expression of play itself is a cultural phenom-
enon. Even solitary forms of play are cultural phenomena for, historically,
not all children have played with Barbie dolls and not all societies have
played monopoly. Play is an indispensable element of culture – it shapes and
it is shaped, in turn, by it (Huizinga, 1955). The performances, contests, and
festivals of play, expressed in rich and highly varied stylizations, have been
at the core of social and cultural life from the story-telling gatherings
of the primitive caves to the modern city sports, theaters, and festivals
(Sandelands, 2003;Turner, 1982). Portrayals of play as an evolutionary
mechanism for enforcing organismic adaptive variability (Sutton-Smith,
1997) and as a social protoplasmic element in which culture originates
(Huizinga, 1955), are well in line with and could further enhance our ar-
guments. Given the complex nature of play, however, we had to make some
choices in this paper in order to explore it as an organizational behavior.
Third, our analysis lacks some precision in the sense that play is poly-
morphous and manifested in varied forms (e.g., simulations, role-plays,
fantasy, rule-bound games). While there are differences between these
forms, we view our discussion of the elements of play as generally applying
well enough across all forms of play. Furthermore, while previous articles
have largely focused on either play as diversion or play as engagement, we
have maintained here a dual focus that allows a more complete picture of
play to emerge. That said, our understanding of play can and should be
advanced by exploring in greater detail its diverse forms. For example,
fantasy may be more important to affect-laden thoughts (LeDoux, 1996),
while group simulations may be more important to developing collective
adaptive variability (de Geus, 1996). Future research can shed light on these
issues and explore in greater detail various manifestations, forms, and
‘‘moments’’ of play in organizational life.
Fourth, we have not discussed the effects of play on group-level creativity.
Our literature on play has been so limited, to date, that we had to introduce
several concepts at the individual level of analysis. For example, examining
how ‘‘affect-laden thoughts’’ appear at the group level would require us to
write a paper only about group play. Furthermore, key creativity variables,
such as the creative process, have not been adequately theorized at the group
level, to date. We hope that our arguments about play and creativity at the
individual level will be further developed by future research to include group
processes. Moreover, although our analysis has focused on the micro level,
we have also explored several macro-level issues, such as the relationship
between play and organizational culture, and the ways by which organi-
zations can nurture and benefit from play.
Last but not least, while our focus was on the relationship between play
and creativity, we emphasize that play offers several other opportunities for
novel theory development and empirical research. Play appears to be a
factor in other phenomena that, like creativity, are at the heart of organ-
izational life. In recent years, our field has started to explore the role of play
in other fruitful areas of organizational research, including work identity
(e.g., Ibarra, 1999, 2003), collective identity (e.g., Marotto et al., 2003;
Sandelands, 2003), psychological adjustment to the realities of the work-
place (e.g., Elsbach & Hargadon, 2002;Jett & George, 2003), and organ-
izational culture (e.g., Deal & Kennedy, 1982;Sutton-Smith, 1997). When
these dimensions of organizational life are also taken into account, play
appears to be an important phenomenon embedded in the deep texture of
organizational life.
To wonder about play is to puzzle with questions that are at the heart of
our discipline. For example, why have centuries of attempts at rationalizing
work behavior failed to extinguish play from organizations? Perhaps play can
help us reexamine what is timeless and what is ephemeral in human behavior.
Towards a Theory of Play and Creativity in Organizational Settings 123
Why have play institutions, like the theater, stood the test of time? Perhaps
play can help us to understand why our modern organizations often live and
die too fast. Why is the passion and devotion with which people pursue their
play activities at home often only a dream for many employing organiza-
tions? Perhaps play can teach us a lot about human motivation. The fact that
the idea of free competition within a set of equal rules was born in play
should remind us of how our economic markets got started. In an era where
our ‘‘serious’’ economies are troubled by corruption and scandals, play in its
undiluted forms can educate us about competition that is serious indeed.
In 1788 Goethe (1987, p. 30) observed that while in the classical era
people could enjoy theater a few weeks of the year, ‘‘at present there is at
least one play-house [in Rome] open in summer and autumn as well as
winter.’’ Goethe would be surprised if he knew that today there is a plethora
of theaters, playhouses, operas, and sports arenas in our cities. Although the
nature of these institutions and the nature of play itself have been trans-
formed over the centuries, there is something that appears to have not
changed at all: people continue to find some of the fullest and most re-
warding experiences in their lives in such play spaces. In an era biased
toward ‘‘real’’ and ‘‘true’’ information, why do people find meaning and joy
in creating and enacting ‘‘false,’’ symbolic worlds? Perhaps because there is
something more fundamental in human nature than the image of the ‘‘so-
ber,’’ rational agent. In probably the most important treatise on play of all
times, Huizinga (1955) wrote that, alongside the original world of nature,
humans create through play a poetic world of fiction, contest, and imag-
ination in which all culture and novelty originate. If a fraction of Huizinga’s
argument were true, several dimensions of organizational behavior – and the
very idea of behavior in organizations – could be revisited in novel, fresh
ways. The field of play, and the field for play, remains for us an inviting,
puzzling, and exciting territory of organizational behavior.
1. Taking too much time away from monotonous tasks to play computer games
or play with other colleagues can have important economic costs for organizations.
This is, in fact, the reason that diversionary play is often seen as a waste of time.
Note, however, that what triggers work disengagement in this case is not play itself
but the very nature of the work. Considering the psychological costs associated with
monotonous, boring, and alienating organizational work, diversionary play seems to
be more of an alleviation of the problem and less of the problem itself. We do not
explore this issue further here because it is associated with organizational contexts
where creativity is usually not a requirement or even a possibility of the job.
We thank Charlan Nemeth, Nigel Nicholson, Randall Peterson, and Barry
Staw for their comments on previous drafts of the manuscript, and Chris
Early, Rob Goffee, Alice Kolb, and David Kolb for their suggestions in the
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... Fun is an experiential stimulation (Friedman et al., 2007) that engenders enjoyment and pleasure that people experience while they are engaged in particular actions. Importantly, fun is related to a specific type of positive affect resulting from engagement in certain experiences (Truhon, 1983;Mainemelis and Ronson, 2006;Pryor et al., 2010;Vijay and Vazirani, 2011). ...
... Previous research has shown that individuals in a positive mood state are more creative when working toward processfocused goals (i.e., enjoyment) and less creative when focusing on outcome-focused goals (i.e., performance) (Hirt et al., 1996). Importantly, fun is a specific type of positive affect resulting from engagement in certain experiences (Truhon, 1983;Mainemelis and Ronson, 2006;Pryor et al., 2010;Vijay and Vazirani, 2011). Hence, I hypothesize that when engaged in a cognitive-based game that engenders a high degree of fun, individuals will generally be in happy/positive mood states, and thus, a processfocused goal orientation with respect to the game should lead to greater creativity on a subsequent new product development task (vs. ...
... Therefore, I found support for H 3 , which stated that individuals who were given a process goal orientation for a cognitive-based game that engendered a high degree of fun were more creative on a subsequent new product development task than those who were given an outcome goal orientation. Prior studies are muted about how the association between fun, which is a specific type of positive effect (Truhon, 1983;Mainemelis and Ronson, 2006;Pryor et al., 2010;Vijay and Vazirani, 2011), and creativity varies across the level of goal orientation. Therefore, the evidence documented in this section fills the gap in the literature on process goal orientation (Amabile, 1996;Deci et al., 1999) such as positive affect and creativity (Hirt et al., 1996). ...
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In an effort to bolster employee creativity, companies like Google and Groupon have adopted indoor work spaces that incorporate slides, swings, and unconventional design. While it may be costly and time-consuming to change certain aspects of a firm's work environment (e.g., the room design) to aid creativity and brainstorming, it is relatively easy for managers to encourage employees to engage in certain forms of unstructured recreation immediately prior to creative-based tasks for a new product development. This research addresses an important oversight in the literature by exploring the effect of cognitive game playing and goal orientation on subsequent new product development creativity. It was found that a cognitive game that engenders a greater degree of fun results in greater creativity on a subsequent new product development task, compared with both a cognitive-based game that engenders less fun and a control group. Furthermore, it was found that, for a cognitive-based game that engenders a high degree of fun, individuals who are primed with a process goal orientation are more likely to be creative on a subsequent new product development task than those who are primed with an outcome goal orientation.
... Having a more holistic picture of the affordance of a gamified work system for creative outcome fills this gap in the literature. Comprehending the broad concept of playful work is particularly more important for creativity than other work outcomes because it fosters a natural pathway that facilitates the affective, motivational, and skill dimension conducive for an adaptive creative process (Mainemelis & Ronson, 2006). ...
... While gameplay facilitates creativity by offering new realities and by reducing the barriers, behavioral norms, and routines (Mainemelis & Ronson, 2006), the literature identifies certain work practices that provide opportunity, heighten employees' service competence, and motivation for creativity (Ma et al., 2021;Okoe et al., 2018). The interaction between play and work offers a promising research avenue and the blended approach holds more benefits for creativity, but the area is understudied (Patrício et al., 2020). ...
... Also considered as practices that enhance intrinsic motivation, components of opportunity-enhancing practices facilitate employees' ability to solve work problems, develop new ideas and predict workplace creativity (Jiang, Wang, et al., 2012). They provide task features that stimulate divergent thinking and offer employees the required amount of independence necessary to pursue creative thinking (Mainemelis & Ronson, 2006). Employees experience more task identity because they can have control, and be responsible for completing a whole task segment within the gamified work system (Cardador et al., 2017). ...
Drawing on the affordance theory, this paper theorizes about how workplace creativity could be influenced by employees’ interaction with game design elements incorporated into work systems. To comprehensively capture possible relationships, two vital theoretical frameworks -ability-motivation-opportunity (AMO) and affordance theory, were employed to provide theoretical guidance and a basis upon which propositions were established. A review of literature in the field reveals that gamified work system, through the improvement of ability-, motivation- and opportunity-enhancing practices supports dimensions including employee’s motivation and competence which are prerequisites for a creative outcome. Furthermore, contrary to the common opinion, work gamification could constrain employees’ creativity at work. Theoretically grounded in existing theories and past literature, this conceptual paper touches on unpopular discussions in the literature, opens a research avenue for further studies by providing testable propositions and recommendations for practice.
... Such daydreaming may involve the generation of creative ideas and these ideas may be both, useful and noveltwo key characteristics of creativity (Zhou & Hoever, 2014). Further, POD may lead to divergent thinking (Mainemelis & Ronson, 2006) which is a fundamental process underlying creativity (Dane, 2018;Runco, 2008). Building upon this logic, we expect POD to influence individual's INWB which involves not only the generation of new ideas but also the promotion and application of new and creative ideas at the workplace (Yidong & Xinxin, 2013). ...
... The act of playing allows people to express and transform unpleasant or horrifying feelings, such as pain, loss, or death (Winnicott, 2017). Play enables people to cognitively resolve conflicting emotions and relieve negative emotional states (Mainemelis and Ronson, 2006). The cognitive element of play may change and generally result in some form of positive effect but only after some time. ...
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Introduction Although the literature reports that play provides substantial psychological benefits for individuals, it is often only emphasized by educators for younger children but less so for emerging adults. This cross-sectional study examined the impact of time spent engaged in play on emerging adults’ emotional intelligence, emotional traits, and resilience. Methods Participants ( N = 131, 93.9% women) were full-time undergraduate students between the ages of 19 and 25 ( M = 21.28, SD = 1.08). Results Results showed that play experiences cultivated emotional intelligence and strengthened resilience. Further, the findings supported a serial mediation model in which play was indirectly related to resilience through its effect on emotional intelligence and positive emotion. Discussion Play is recognized as a means to relieve stress and protect psychological wellbeing. Emerging adults who experience pleasure, enjoyment, learning, and the acquisition of new skills will benefit from play. Individuals should enhance positive play experiences, particularly sporting activities, to maintain a healthy work-life balance given the positive relationship between play, emotional intelligence, emotional traits, and resilience.
... This positive upward spiral supports the idea of kindness and enabling to enhance opportunities of heightened creativity behind the camera. Play at work has also been associated with creativity and innovation because it can develop cognitive skills and nurture new knowledge (Mainemelis & Ronson, 2006). The significant role of play can easily be overlooked. ...
Since its inception, Hollywood has enjoyed the benefits of privilege and prestige based in part because of scarcity of resources (i.e., financing, information, labor, equipment). Today’s technology has leveled the filmmaking landscape, and the incoming generation of filmmakers are less tolerant of the traditional devaluing behaviors in Hollywood. If the resources are no longer coveted and the typical behaviors not accepted, can Hollywood remain the filmmaking leader? This paper suggests that it can by evolving its behaviors to nurture people and relationships instead of exploit and deplete them. By utilizing tools such as positive psychology’s well-being model PERMA and positive organizational scholarship’s high-quality connections, the industry can inspire artists by shifting away from traditional devaluing behaviors and create a culture of support. Hollywood can leverage its position as the world’s foremost creative collective to influence new standards of relationships in production that prioritize genuine kindness, trust, and respectful engagement, or as this filmmaker calls it positive production.
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In the first decades of the 21st century, the topic of the ‘playing’ person has become the core of interdisciplinary research on human activity. As museums have been adopting a new approach towards cultural dissemination and educational goals, the discourse of play is also becoming one of the current fields of research in museology. Although the cultural aspects of play and game have been discussed for a long time, the interpretation of the concept of play from the museological point of view is a relatively new field which requires the definition of the synonymously used terms and the respective concepts. The aim of this article is to highlight the concept and function of play in museology based on the analysis of museology theories, to identify the preconditions for the formation of play communication, and to identify the directions of the development of the concept of play in the contemporary museological research. The article is based on an integrated literature review of the analysis of the concept of play while focusing on theoretical texts and monographs of scholars studying the phenomenon of play, as well as on theoretical and empirical research articles analysing the expression of play in all types of museums. This paper also discusses the linguistic use of the terms play and game. In the Lithuanian language, we not only have to deal with the synonymous use of play (žaismas)/game (žaidimas) in the translation of spel, play, spielen, but also with the use of play in the translation of both play and game used in different contexts in the English-language literature. Since game is a structured form of play, and, in the museological research and practice, game is more commonly defined as the digital expression and referred to as gamification, it is suggested that play (as an action and a state of being) should be distinguished from game (as a structured form of action) by using two different terms in the Lithuanian language. The literature reviewed in this article has highlighted that the concept of play in the museum is linked to the development of new theories of museology, and it reveals itself as a creative construct that is shaped and sustained by the institution. Play is defined as the concept for communicating the theme of the museum, manifested through the act of play and the elements of game. This approach to the dissemination of content and the organisation of activities is expressed through the application of play and game methods which allow the audience to engage in a more intensive relationship with the museum’s theme and exhibits. Play becomes a necessary medium for the museum’s metagame which includes and expresses playfulness, play action, playful elements, real and digital games, whereas the audience is engaged by play to satisfy its educational and entertainment needs. To summarise on the interdisciplinary context of the phenomenon of play, in museology, it is most appropriate to associate play with an intellectual or conceptual state that involves exchange, change and playful action. The term game in the museological context is more commonly used to refer to a specific spatial, temporal or rule-based action which, in the museum practice, is more frequently associated with gamification.
The study advances stress and daydreaming (mind wandering) literature by exploring the relationship between performance pressure and innovative work behaviour. We examine whether problem-oriented daydreams mediate the relationship between performance pressure and innovative work behaviour. We also investigate the mediating role of problem-oriented daydreams between performance pressure and task performance. A cross-sectional survey was conducted among academicians in India. A theoretical model was tested using structural equation modelling techniques. The results indicate that problem-oriented daydreams mediate the relationship between performance pressure and innovative work behaviour. Further, results also support the hypothesised relationship between performance pressure and task performance mediated by problem-oriented daydreams. Our results hold while controlling for gender and institutional tenure for our hypothesised model.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to propose a conceptual framework that establishes the linkages among green dynamic capability (GDC), green innovation (GI), organisational creativity (OC) and organisational agility (OA), which influence small and medium enterprises (SMEs) sustainability performance (SP) in trade and service sectors in Thailand. Design/methodology/approach This paper conducts a search of existing literature regarding SMEs SP. A conceptual framework is provided that can be used by SMEs to enhance their SP driving sustainable business growth. Findings A framework for SMEs sustainability is proposed, which demonstrates the connection between GDC and SME SP, with GI and OC as mediators and OA as a moderator. Research limitations/implications This paper is limited in terms of the scope of SME sustainability in the context of the trade and service sector. Future empirical study should be conducted to validate the proposed framework and hypotheses in this study. Practical implications This study forms the basis for the enhancement of SMEs SP in relation to boosting their GDC, GI, creativity and agility. Originality/value This paper presents a comprehensive framework that leads to the conceptualisation of SME SP. It will help practitioners and academics to better understand the causes of SMEs SP.
Currently, in the context of leadership, there is an important compromise between training activities and evaluation methods with training focused on the skills of the 21st century (such as tenacity, resilience, social empathy, and creative problem‐solving) while the evaluation continues to focus on 20th‐century methodologies. As regards leadership training and assessment methods, they could be optimized using methodologies and techniques from organisational neuroscience (ON), which uses implicit measures of brain activity to gain a better understanding of the disciplines of organizing behavior and human resource management. One of the challenges of the ON is how to create complex social situations in controlled laboratory conditions that produce ecological organizational behaviors. One way is to use digital learning environments to reproduce problems that can occur in performance‐based assessments. Extended reality technology (XR) scenarios can offer significant assessment playgrounds, providing students with situations that require the application of various skills. XR is increasingly used to reproduce natural events and social interaction. The advantage of XR is that it offers interactive, sensory, and multimodal stimuli. In this chapter, we will examine the latest developments in XR technology and organizational sciences. In it, we emphasize that XR is a very important tool for leadership research in particular to assess and train complex skills. This can create a new conceptualization of leadership biomarkers, called extended reality‐based behavioral biomarkers (XRBBs), which can be obtained for the evaluation of leadership skills using a neuroscientific organizational paradigm based on implicit brain processes measured through psychophysiological signals and the behavior of subjects exposed to complex social conditions replication using virtual reality interfaces.
Metaphor and Thought, first published in 1979, reflects the surge of interest in and research into the nature and function of metaphor in language and thought. In this revised and expanded second edition, the editor has invited the contributors to update their original essays to reflect any changes in their thinking. Reorganised to accommodate the shifts in central theoretical issues, the volume also includes six new chapters that present important and influential fresh ideas about metaphor that have appeared in such fields as the philosophy of language and the philosophy of science, linguistics, cognitive and clinical psychology, education and artificial intelligence.
Biological and cultural inheritance deeply influence daily human behavior. However, individuals actively interact with bio-cultural information. Throughout their lives, they preferentially cultivate a limited subset of activities, values, and personal interests. This process, defined as psychological selection, is strictly related to the quality of subjective experience. Specifically, cross-cultural studies have highlighted the central role played by optimal experience or flow, the most positive and complex daily experience reported by the participants. It is characterized by high involvement, deep concentration, intrinsic motivation, and the perception of high challenges matched by adequate personal skills. The associated activities represent the basic units of psychological selection. Flow can therefore influence the selective transmission of bio-cultural information and the process of bio-cultural evolution.
The subject of creativity has been neglected by psychologists. The immediate problem has two aspects. (1) How can we discover creative promise in our children and our youth, (2) How can we promote the development of creative personalities. Creative talent cannot be accounted for adequately in terms of I.Q. A new way of thinking about creativity and creative productivity is seen in the factorial conceptions of personality. By application of factor analysis a fruitful exploratory approach can be made. Carefully constructed hypotheses concerning primary abilities will lead to the use of novel types of tests. New factors will be discovered that will provide us with means to select individuals with creative personalities. The properties of primary abilities should be studied to improve educational methods and further their utilization. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
I: Background.- 1. An Introduction.- 2. Conceptualizations of Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination.- II: Self-Determination Theory.- 3. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Perceived Causality and Perceived Competence.- 4. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Interpersonal Communication and Intrapersonal Regulation.- 5. Toward an Organismic Integration Theory: Motivation and Development.- 6. Causality Orientations Theory: Personality Influences on Motivation.- III: Alternative Approaches.- 7. Operant and Attributional Theories.- 8. Information-Processing Theories.- IV: Applications and Implications.- 9. Education.- 10. Psychotherapy.- 11. Work.- 12. Sports.- References.- Author Index.