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No learning without play.

This ‘Develop’ is about play, and playfulness. Play as form, as method, but also as a way of thinking and looking. Our starting point is that play and playfulness form a powerful ingredient for learning and innovation. However, that power is at the least underestimated in the HRD field. We would like to invite you on an explorative journey, to research what is possible when you look playfully at questions in our profession.

An issue about playfulness needs to be playful itself. Consequently, we see this explorative journey as play, as ‘explorative behaviour’ as Maartje Raaijmakers describes the core of children’s play in our interview with her. Our aim is not to find the final and unambiguous answer to how to use play as an instrument, but to evoke new questions and ideas. Douglas Rushkoff describes this as ‘deep play’ which is not about winning, finishing the play, but about continuing. The essence, says Rushkoff, is ‘infinity’, real play always give rise to the next play, the next intrigueging question. You don’t play to learn, to improve, but you do you ‘work’ well so that you can play. We live to play, the essence of play is to play. And this last idea then leads us to Huizinga and his ‘homo ludens’ – see the reading tips at the end.

What is the importance of thinking playfully?

Our journey will lead us past four major questions. Firstly, what is the importance of thinking playfully? Why would you want to do it, what is in it for you? Douglas Rushkoff  is making a strong case for the creation of space in which people can play at work, if you want to excel as an organisation. We need more playfulness, (economic) success is the consequence.

That this idea works can be seen at brand eins, a German economic magazine that has playfulness written all over it. The starting point of the editorial team was not to create something successful, but the playful idea to simply make a fantastic product, the magazine you would love to read yourself. It is a courageous thing to do. Established as an experiment in an overly satisfied market, brand eins in the meantime is recognized as the magazine with the different perspective, leading kiosk-sales countrywide.

What is playing?

Our second question links to this: if playing and playfulness is so important, what then is play?
We are looking for a first answer in the animal kingdom. Simon van der Veer en Tjip de Jong research the play of chimpanzees and explain how chimpanzees play, what the role is that play has in their learning, en which ingredients their play needs to have. Subsequently, they are looking for applying these ideas to how organisations can learn by doing as the chimpanzees do.
In our interview with Maartje Raaijmakers, a developmental psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, we look at the play of children. What does play mean to children, what are they learning from it, and when and why do we stop playing?

Tony Frost looks for an answer to how we can learn from children’s play when it comes to such a ‘heavy’ topic as sustainability. He dives deeper into the question how we can free ourselves from existing rules, structures en forms that inhibit play.

Also adults play, en when they do, they often buy a game. In a game-shop. There is a special game-shop in the Nachtegaalstreet in Utrecht. Tjip de Jong asks Edwin Hoogendoorn for the playful behaviour of adults. How do they play? And which kind of games do adults like?

What does playfulness mean for the design of learning and development?

We argue in this prologue, and with this issue, that playful thinking needs to have consequences for the HRD field. What does playfulness mean for the design of learning and development? Read in this section of the magazine a number of considerations and examples about the consequences of playful thinking for the HRD field.

In play you are taking on different perspectives. Taking on such a different perspective is the essence of intercultural learning. Arne Gillert explores what one might conclude from the discipline of intercultural learning about the relationship between playing and learning. And about the importance of learning from experience as a radical concept.

Beauty and playfulness are closely connected, in the view of Pieterjan van Wijngaarden. Is it possible to add a new dimension to the activities that we are employing inside HRD: the aesthetic dimension? What does this ask from the HRD professional, and specifically how do you then look at learning?

Michiel Nannen researches what you can learn from the creation process of a choreography. Dance and theatre are a constant form of innovation – which parallels can we draw to our profession? What does it mean for management to let go of wanting to control the result? To run blindfoldedly, as Nannen’s title states?

That letting go asks for courage. How would something like that look like in practice? For example, by playing with the rules. Because rules are so explicitly present in the game, nothing is so seductive as breaking the rules. Playing entices one to put into question the rules. Large organisations have many rules. The interview with Hans Montanus shows what one can achieve if one starts perceiving these rules as play and consciously starts to break them open. Maybe one only needs to perceive reality as play, and suddenly there is room for new, better working rules!

Which playful forms are there already?

There is a long tradition of using games and other playful forms in the HRD profession, for example simulations. What are examples of these forms in practice, and why do they work?

In the world of fire fighting simulations are at the core of learning. In a controlled environment, fire fighters are confronted with all kinds of situations. Arne Gillert visited Koos Poelma. How do fire fighters and their managers learn? Which role does play have in their learning? And how do you ensure that people will keep their head cool when there is a real crisis, and make the right decisions?

The game is not new in HRD. What are forms that exist? And how are they being used by organisations? Ivo Wenzler gives an overview of the different instruments one could bring together under the name ‘game’. What works, and why? And what makes the design process of a game so powerful?

We are (almost) finishing this issue with two practical examples of using play and simulation. Maarten Bruns en Martin Bruggink developed a reflection-workshop by working with the Nintendo WII, a game console with which one can literally box with each other, go bowling or play tennis. Rob Poell gives a reaction to the article.
A second experience is the ‘Flight Simulator’, developed by Saskia Tjepkema and Maaike Smit – a method in which the real world can be experienced as in a pressure cooker. Ferd van der Krogt reacts to this example.

Curious for more? Annemieke Stoppelenburg put together a wonderful literature review. As someone who has been in the world of gaming and playing for a long time, and who has published about it considerably, she is leading us past her favourite books, articles and websites.

We close this issue with an epilogue, as is tradition.

Suffice to ask: how can you read such a Develop playful? Probably – hopefully – you are doing that automatically, enticed by the articles to take on the offered perspective to look at your own questions and topics.
What do you do differently if play is at the core of your approach?
May we, with this, explicitly invite you to start to play with the perspectives offered, to explore what then can happen with all kinds of questions and issues?

Are you joining the play?