People achieve more by combining work and play

We need to be more willing to let our minds play while working, says Caron Bradshaw

Caron Bradshaw
Caron Bradshaw

I have just finished reading The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up, a book that has strengthened my conviction about the power of laughter and its role as an essential lubricant of good communication. As the authors put it: "If they are laughing, they are listening."

Finance professionals are increasingly embracing this lightness of touch. Jonathan Taylor, a 2011 Clore Social Fellow, says in his soon-to-be published Clore research report Beyond Eeyore: growing your influence as a charity finance director that it is important finance directors do not "take a narrow numbers view". He says the skills of being a great communicator should come from the "newer finance director toolbox".

The research behind The Levity Effect showed that frivolity reduced staff turnover and improved productivity and growth. As charities, we are dealing with people, and people like to laugh. Yet we seem to lose the ability to laugh and play as we grow up; research shows children laugh about 20 times more a day than adults. But with the exception of one Charity Finance Group member (who knows who he is), not many finance professionals can claim to be Britain's funniest accountant.

I like to have a laugh. Last year I co-delivered a session on finance and improvisation skills to more than 200 professionals while wearing a set of bee antennae. Why? Well, two years ago I began a quest. I was looking for a training course that would allow finance professionals to reframe how they see themselves. This would develop their skills as team leaders who can bring out the best in their colleagues and transform their ability to shape how others view them.

I eventually came across an innovative approach called applied improvisation, which uses techniques from theatre and jazz. The wider applied improvisation community was intrigued about how finance and improvisation might fit together, because the two fields are not an obvious match.

Together with our course co-creator, I was invited to the Applied Improvisation International conference to tell them how it worked.

Using bees as an analogy, we talked about how structures can have an extreme effect on how organisations work and how sticking to the plan and seeing improvisation only as a response to failure prevents you from adapting and holds you back.

Being brave enough to wear the antennae not only resulted in a few laughs, but also won the audience over to thinking about the enormous potential and flair that finance professionals and their teams possess.

We often think of play and work as separate. But we need to be more willing to let our minds play while working. Think about it. How often do you leave work with the solution to a problem just out of reach? You might walk the dog, go to the gym or meet a friend for coffee and - while your mind is 'at play' - the answer arrives in a flash of inspiration, a moment of clarity.

As an applied improviser, Brian Sutton-Smith, put it, "the opposite of play is not work - it's depression". So my question is: are you looking for depression or success?

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group

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