As modern companies focus on systems, outcomes and corporate accountability, creativity remains elusive. But innovative companies want creative teams. Although we live in a culture that firmly separates work from play, current neuroscience research requires us to take a second look. Stepping back from work – partaking in playful engagement or exploration – is essential to innovative thinking, energy, empathy, individuality – and to our very nature as human beings.
Recently, I discovered that digital gamers embrace a classic book about play called Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (1938) by Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga. Huizinga says that play is at the center of everything in human culture, and that it happens within what he called a magic circle. Although Huizinga could not have imagined the world of digital games, he described the magic circle as a temporary world within the ordinary world where people play by special rules and engage in pleasurable activities that ignite the imagination.
As workplace learning remains a high priority in global companies, nearly half of American workplace learning in 2016 was delivered electronically. The convenience of the digital platform makes tailored learning accessible: employees can learn the very specific skills they need right now, delaying additional training until they need it. As companies allocate training dollars, continuous, on-demand learning provides the effective skill-development many seek.
This individualized approach may be efficient, but is it sufficient?
In the world of the sciences – including the social sciences – researchers have long known that they need to be on the lookout for surprises in their data. When something unexpected repeatedly emerges, it is time to sit up, take notice and challenge the assumptions that shaped your research. In the early days of interviewing Books@Work participants, the surprises we observed in participant experiences sent us right back to our early thinking about the program.
The original concept for Books@Work came from a community effort (led by Ann Kowal Smith) to support individuals in the workplace to seek further education. The group speculated that building their interest and confidence as lifelong learners might help people across the educational spectrum develop new skills and attitudes as members of the 21st-century workforce. Steeped in the liberal arts, the designers of the program believed in literature as a way to engage worker/learners to discover their untapped potential. But over the course of hundreds of participant interviews, new insights beyond the original vision began to emerge.
Today, we’re featuring an interview with Benne Hutson, the Director, Environmental and Deputy General Counsel for EnPro Industries, a global manufacturing company. Benne participates in Books@Work alongside leaders and staff from various departments in the corporate office. Together, the ongoing group has read and discussed over 15 short stories and counting.
When we asked Benne to share a little bit about his fellow Books@work participants, he said, “There were people from the legal department, internal audit, the payroll department, the tax department, the treasury department. So it was people that I would work with on a project every once in a while, but not on a day-to-day basis. Even if I worked with them regularly, I’m not sure I would’ve known them as a person in the way that you get to know them through Books@Work.”
We are thrilled to feature an interview today with Jon Schmitz, the Archivist and Historian for the Chautauqua Institution and a six-time Books@Work participant.
Tell us a little about yourself. What kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis at Chautauqua?
I am responsible for acquiring, preserving and providing access to the records that document the Chautauqua Institution and Movement. I answer inquiries from the public, assist researchers, support staff and various Institution programs. I offer advice and support regarding archival practice to groups both on and off the grounds. I teach classes in archival practice which are open to the public and oversee educational internships. I also organize a lecture series and speak about Chautauqua’s history at the Institution, in the local area and around the country.
Happy Friday! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month for you to browse and enjoy this weekend.
In NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos & Culture, theoretical physicist, author and Dartmouth College professor Marcelo Gleiser explores “the growing gap between the sciences and the humanities” – how it harms us, how we enable it and what we can do to bridge the divide. With a course called “Understanding the Universe: From Atoms to the Big Bang,” Gleiser hopes to portray “the sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences as different and complementary ways of knowing the world and why we matter” – a lesson that is just as crucial in the workplace as it is in the classroom. So how can we convince others to help bridge the gap?
It is not only a simple cliché but also a cultural meme, that at the beginning of a new year, like the Roman god Janus, we reflect on the past and make plans for a different future. This meme represents a fundamental human urge to learn, change and develop new ways of being in the world. Essentially, it is an annual opportunity to focus on possibilities and to say, “That can be me.”
University of Chicago philosopher Martha Nussbaum suggests that two key questions guide our efforts to pursue what we can be: What are we actually able to do and to be? What real opportunities do we have to pursue our goals?
An early innovator of creative nonfiction, Norman Mailer is known for pushing the envelope and transgressing genre. His career path alone is a testament to his willingness be uncomfortable and challenge boundaries: He was a novelist, an essayist, an activist, a playwright, an actor and a filmmaker. “Every moment of one’s life is growing into more,” Mailer once said, “and retreating into less.”
But retreating into, for many, is the natural reaction when dealing with discomfort. Consider a common work situation: You’re working with a group of colleagues on a complicated project. You seem to be reaching a consensus in how to move forward until one colleague raises a new, alternative idea. Another colleague shuts it down abruptly, and awkward silence ensues. You step in with a joke to ease the tension and get the discussion back on track.
But what if that colleague’s idea was worth exploring?
Last week, my colleague, fellow researcher and Books@Work Board Member, Karen Nestor, encouraged us to rethink workplace learning for the 21st century. By separating “learning to be” from “learning about,” she reminded us that organizational learning culture requires a fundamental shift from training employees to creating regular, varied and meaningful opportunities for individual learning.
But how does a focus on individual learning benefit the organization?