“We are most nearly ourselves when we achieve the seriousness of a child at play.” Heraclitus

Playfulness is not a topic traditionally related to business activities. On the contrary, most people tend to relate business activities with terms which are the complete opposite of playfulness, such as sacrifice, hard work, huge effort, Spartan discipline, and other similar phrases.

Many people believe that business activities should be performed in a serious, hard, and monotonous manner. Dodgson and Gann (2018) observed that most organisations set a myriad of rules, policies, and procedures, which oftentimes prevent people from being playful.

Besides, many companies share a widespread but detrimental assumption that their employees must be on duty 24/7 (and more, if this were possible) to progress in a challenging and complex business environment. Most business people associate business success with abnegation. The term “abnegation” implies an attitude of self-denial, responsibility, dutifulness, and sacrificing one’s desire to favour others’ desires.

Consequently, abnegation does not seem to be related to the concepts of “fun” and “playfulness.” In a company, abnegated staff are prone to renounce their own interests to achieve the company’s goals. The business approach based on abnegation is borne out in different ways:

◾ Working hard, fatiguingly, and drudgingly in a continuous manner

◾ Setting business activities as a priority over everything else

◾ Taking massive action in the shortest time possible

◾ Being worried about any problem, even small ones

◾ Overanalysing situations in order to solve them

◾ Forcing things to happen in a specific way

◾ Performing activities on automatic pilot

◾ Being over-committed to the goals previously set

◾ Following successful formulas that worked for others

◾ Doing things in the same way as usual

◾ Focusing exclusively on “serious” and traditional activities

◾ Being exclusively focused on economic aims

The behaviours shown in these examples tend to generate negative feelings, unproductive thoughts, and tension in most people. When people act in any of these ways, they are prone to feel stressed and fretful. These people are also inclined to adopt a defensive attitude (fight-freeze-flight mode) which prevents them from harnessing their high mental capabilities (such as creativity, synthesis, analysis, etc.). Likewise, Marden (1917) observed that “over-seriousness depresses the mental faculties and tends to lower efficiency.”

A question for self-reflection ” How can I adopt a more playful attitude when I perform business activities?”


  • Dodgson, M. and D. M. Gann. 2018. The Playful Entrepreneur. How to Adapt and Thrive in Uncertain Times. Padstow, UK: Yale University Press.
  • Marden, O. S. 1917. How to Get What You Want. New York, NY: Thomas & Crowell.

This is an excerpt from the book “The Art of Compassionate Business: Main Principles for the Human-Oriented Enterprise” (2019, Routledge – Productivity Press). This book can be found here: www.bit.ly/2MAkr4k