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Deb Maes

Dr Gene Early the writer of Five Deadliest Sins of Leadership

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The Neuroscience of Success:
How Executive Playfulness Drives Greater Achievement

published IN SEPTEMBER 2023

In the pursuit of success, most executives think key drivers are of qualities like determination, discipline, and strategic thinking. However, there's a fascinating and relatively unexplored aspect of success that has been gaining attention in recent years: executive playfulness. 

Executive playfulness is the art of infusing a playful spirit into the often formal and serious world of business.

Picture a boardroom meeting where the CEO is juggling stress balls, using a rubber chicken as a pointer, and occasionally breaking into spontaneous interpretive dance moves. That's executive playfulness in action!

What!!! But don't let the whimsical imagery fool you; there's a serious side to fun and games.

Playfulness can be a powerful tool for success. Now, you might be wondering, "How on earth does playfulness correlate with success?"

Neuroscience research suggests that incorporating elements of play into our daily routines and decision-making processes can lead to greater success.

Let’s delve into the world of executive playfulness and explore how it can elevate our achievements.

Understanding Executive Playfulness:

Executive playfulness is a mindset that encourages creativity, exploration, and curiosity within the realm of professional responsibilities. It involves adopting a playful approach to problem-solving, decision-making, and even leadership. Far from being a frivolous pursuit, executive playfulness has a solid foundation in neuroscience, as it leverages the brain's capacity to adapt and excel in a dynamic world.

The Brain's Reward System:

To comprehend the link between executive playfulness and success, we must first consider the brain's reward system. Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and this system plays a crucial role in motivation and decision-making. When we engage in activities that bring us joy and satisfaction, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This release of dopamine not only makes us feel good but also enhances our cognitive functions.

Real-World Examples:

Google famously encourages employees to spend 20% of their work time on personal projects, fostering a playful and creative atmosphere. This policy has led to innovations like Gmail and Google Maps.

Elon Musk, the visionary behind companies like Tesla and SpaceX, often approaches complex engineering challenges with a playful mindset. His willingness to explore unconventional solutions has been a key factor in his companies' successes

Four ways Playfulness Influences the Brain:

Enhanced Creativity: Playful thinking encourages divergent thinking, allowing the brain to explore multiple perspectives and solutions to a problem. This cognitive flexibility is a crucial ingredient in creativity, as it enables individuals to connect seemingly unrelated ideas.

Stress Reduction: Playfulness reduces stress by decreasing cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. A less stressed brain operates more efficiently and can focus better on tasks at hand.

Improved Learning: When we approach tasks with a playful attitude, our brains become more receptive to learning. The brain is more engaged and open to new information, making the learning process more effective.

Better Decision-Making: Executive playfulness encourages us to take calculated risks and be more adaptable in our decision-making. This mindset can lead to better problem-solving and more innovative solutions.

Cultivate Playfulness - CATS:

C -Curiosity: Foster a sense of curiosity about your work and industry. Ask questions, challenge assumptions, and explore new ideas.

A -Atmosphere: Allow for brainstorming sessions, playful exercises, and unorthodox approaches to problem-solving. Even better than allowing it, encourage it.

T -Time Out: Regular breaks rejuvenate the brain and boost productivity. Use breaks to do things you really enjoy, even if they seem unrelated to your work.

S -Silly Setbacks: Reframe failure as a learning opportunity rather than a setback, or better still, find the silly side. A playful mindset helps bounce back from setbacks.

The moral of the story is that success and playfulness aren't mutually exclusive; they're delightful dance partners on the journey to achieving your goals. Embrace a bit of playfulness in your approach to work and tap into the brain's reward system, boost creativity, reduce stress, and ultimately achieve greater success. Injecting a bit of playfulness into your executive mindset – it might just be the key to unlocking your full potential.

Deb Maes editor of five deadliest sin

Deb Maes | Editor

Deb is like a magician in the way she is able to discern the exact key to unlock more of the untapped potential in leaders.