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The Serious Business of Play

Most managers see strategy development as serious business. It is ironic, then, that some of the most remarkable strategic breakthroughs in organizations emerge not from well-ordered processes but from messy, ambiguous and sometimes irrational activities -- pursuits that can best be described as play. Referring to research in the fields of developmental psychology and anthropology, the authors argue that play can stimulate the development of cognitive, interpretive skills and engender an emotional sense of fulfillment. It can help establish a safe environment for introducing new ideas about market opportunities, generating debate about important strategic issues, challenging old assumptions and building a sense of common purpose.

The authors draw on their own experiences working with managers at the Imagination Lab Foundation and Templeton College, Oxford University, and they make sure to point out that play is no substitute for rational, conventional strategy development. Indeed, after the creative sessions are over, plenty of hard work remains to translate the ideas and insights into processes and actions. However, the authors argue that organizations seeking to differentiate themselves from competitors and overcome strategic obstacles can benefit by making time for managers to interact creatively with follow-up on the insights that emerge.
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