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How to work better: Play!

by Patricia Sellers

Did you play this past weekend?

Serious scientific research suggests that the most intelligent animals are the ones that play the most.

Combine this notion, cited in an article called “State of Play” in The New Yorker recently, with the idea that success — as I’ve noted often here on Postcards — comes increasingly to people who have agile minds and flexible ways of doing things. Play is a necessity of successful work, yes? At least, play is essential to ward off burnout in a high-flying career.

It’s Monday, I know. Unless you’re lucky enough to be on August break, you don’t have time to contemplate play. But now is as good a time as any to share with you a talk that I led recently with architect David Rockwell. Rockwell designed the sleek JetBlue (JBLU) terminal at JFK airport and created the stage-set spaces that distinguish W Hotels and Nobu restaurants. He also designed the sets for Hairspray on Broadway. A theater geek since he was a kid (his mother ran a community theater on the Jersey shore), he’s now creating the sets for John Guare’s new play, A Free Man of Color, coming to Lincoln Center this fall.

The youngest of five brothers and today a dad to two young kids, Rockwell has studied play and has strong views about it. Play, he argues, has become too prescribed and linear. His first “Imagination Playground,” which is an effort to foster creativity and get kids to spend more time outdoors, opened last week in Manhattan. This week’s
describes the multi-level landscape — composed of sand, water and 350 bright blue foam blocks of many different shapes — as “happy chaos.”

Rockwell concocted his playscape pro bono, in partnership with the non-profit Kaboom, the biggest builder of playgrounds in the U.S. The fantastical architect has global ambitions. When I asked him, during our on-stage chat at the Aspen Ideas Festival, if he hoped to get do-good billionaires there to buy his Imagination Playground in a Box, a portable set that sells for $6,150 and up, he ticked off the cities that are already buying: Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta, Honolulu…”By year-end, there will be 100 Imagination Playgrounds in use in the U.S,” he told me” London and even Saudi Arabia are importing Rockwell’s new-fangled playground.

Always the dreamer, Rockwell now wants to extend his Play project in one more direction: a book. He’s interviewing 50 super-successful people about how they played as kids.

If you’d like to see the video of my conversation with Rockwell at the Aspen Ideas Festival, click here.