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December 18, 2001
Keeping the 'Fun' Benefit
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n as recession sends the pendulum back toward the traditional workplace, many companies are trying to hold onto their foosball tables, casual-dress codes, and other New Economy trappings, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Some firms stand by the notion that fun needs to be not just a break from work, but a part of it.

"There are a lot of companies that either got it from the get-go or gradually discovered that there was a lot of value to creating a workplace where people are genuinely engaged," says Alan Webber, founding editor of Fast Company magazine. "Even though times are bad, they're trying to hold on to that sensibility that's been growing."

Integrating fun into the workday doesn't need to detract from productivity or cost extra, advocates tell the Monitor. Rather, they say, if companies want employees to be innovative, productive, and to think outside the box, then fun is essential.

Tom Kelley, author of "The Art of Innovation" and general manager at IDEO, a Palo Alto, Calif.,-based design firm, calls it "productive play."

"In some ways, we've built a business around this principle of fun," he says. "But I want to defend against the perception that there's anything frivolous about it." At IDEO, "play" has produced the 3Com Palm V, the first laptop computer (for GriD Systems in the early '80s), the stand-up toothpaste tube, and the Acela train.

Now, many firms hire the company for training in innovation as well as product designs. In fact, that's become the hot topic for most clients, Kelley says, even with the current recession.

Innovation, he says, is about "how certain companies are going to break away from the pack.... If companies can make it where it's still fun to come to work because there's a great energy about the workplace, I can't help but think that will help them win."

The strategy has become an integral part of the creative-consultancy company Play, in Richmond, Va. Play works with clients ranging from Target to Timberland, often helping them rethink their corporate structure. As the name suggests, fun is critical to the process.

At the Play headquarters, the walls are brightly colored and covered with photographs, graffiti is encouraged in the bathrooms, and sidewalk musicians may perform during lunch.

"Moments of laughter and creativity will produce better ideas," says Jennifer Ebert, the firm's "executive storyteller," who recalls coming to work recently and seeing two colleagues seated on the floor reading Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends" to each other. "Many managers might say that's a waste of time, but if they can start that day in a better place, it helps them be creative that day."

To view the Christian Science Monitor article, click here.

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