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Most managers see strategy development as serious business. The military origin of the Greek word for army generals, strategoi, suggests that strategy is meant to be rational, analytical and top-down. 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 nonrational activities--pursuits that can best be described as play.
Research in the fields of developmental psychology and anthropology shows that play can stimulate the development of cognitive and interpretive skills and engender an emotional sense of fulfillment. As cultural historian Johan Huizinga noted in his book Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, play is inherently community-oriented, contributing to the development of shared language, identity and social practices. In organizations, play can provide 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.
Using play for maximum impact requires getting employees …