Episode 30: Daniel Teitelbaum

Episode Description: In this episode, we get to know Daniel Teitelbaum, the walking encyclopedia on Play, and how he focuses on adults with play work development.



LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-teitelbaum-4a785b51

Website – http://www.danielteitelbaum.com/

Posh Incredible Transformations – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/posh-incredible-transformations/id1377517663?mt=2

Youtube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyrz1fZpMDHSfGm7t29ieOA/featured

Website – Poshinc.com

Email – tifany@poshinc.com

Episode Notes:

  • Intro – 0:00
  • Who Is Daniel? – 0:48
  • Meeting Daniel at a Play Workshop – 1:15
  • 150 Books on Play – 2:41
  • The Right Way On Play with Children – 3:13
  • What is Play Work? – 6:18
  • The Metalude – 6:32
  • Are Most Adults Play Annihilators? – 9:00
  • A Bad Muscle Memory That Stops Us When We Feel Self Conscious – 10:42
  • A Situation in the Book Free Play – 11:44
  • We Don’t Realize the Rules We Follow Without Realizing It – 12:50
  • Can Play Help Your Relationships? – 13:30
  • Putting a Constraint On Something Is a Form of Play – 16:44
  • I’ve Been Studying the Soul – 20:38
  • The Value of Play In Different Cultures – 23:18
  • Is Possible to Play with People Who Aren’t Playful – 25:24
  • Playing Out An Activity – 27:26
  • How Play Can Help In a Situation? – 30:43
  • What Are Your Personal Go To? – 36:33
  • Lego Serious Play – 38:36
  • Being Very Intuitive – 40:32
  • What Is Clown Work? – 42:20
  • What Is the Internal Journey of Taking the Class? – 46:11
  • What Kind of People Do This and Why? – 47:22
  • Have You Been Practicing? – 48:47
  • The Sensitivity That Makes Life More Enjoyable – 49:24
  • A Moment In Clowning Class – 51:25
  • Play Is Something to Look Into – 53:00
  • Extra Real Life Examples – 54:10
  • Closing – 57:18

Tiffany: I’m Tiffany Lopez, and you’re listening to “Posh Incredible Podcast,” where I interview ordinary people who are making extraordinary transformations in their lives and for others. I believe we’re all here to transcend and assist the ones around us to grow into the people they were born to be. The pathway of awakening is a noble life pursuit, and it starts now.


Hey, Daniel, welcome to the show.


Daniel: Hey, Tif, thanks for having me.


Tiffany: It’s so good to have you. I’m really excited for this episode. Why don’t you give a brief introduction to the audience about who you are and what you do.


Daniel: I’m Daniel Teitelbaum, and I guess broadly speaking, I help people discover what play can do for them. And that’s I guess everything from business to government, to universities, not-for-profits, individuals. I talk about, I guess, the power of play and what it can do to us in so many ways.


Tiffany: So, just for everybody listening, I met Daniel at a play workshop. I actually think it was in 2017.


Daniel: No. It would have been earlier. Definitely. I think it was 2016.


Tiffany: I don’t think so, but okay.


Daniel: Maybe.


Tiffany: Or either 2016 or 2017. And it was the year that I studied play. And the reason that I was studying play that year was because I felt like I was just a little bit too uptight. Like, I just took myself a little bit too seriously, and I wanted more fun in my life. And Daniel’s workshop was something that helped open my mind up to what play actually is. It also made me realize that I did have a form of play that I did not acknowledge. And so, after I took Daniel’s workshop, I continued to study play. One of the books he recommended was “Free Play,” and I highly recommend that because that book kind of changed my life.


Daniel: Yeah. It can do that.


Tiffany: What I really wanted to do… Well, actually, let’s talk about a couple of things that you mentioned about your board. I went to see Daniel’s play library. He’s, like, 100 books about play…


Daniel: A hundred and fifty.


Tiffany: A hundred and fifty.


Daniel: I’ve actually numbered them so that I can keep track.


Tiffany: And that’s a form of play too.


Daniel: And procrastination. Play-crastination is actually a thing that I’ve been calling what I do when I’m procrastinating.


Tiffany: Daniel’s like a walking play encyclopedia. But, anyway, one of the things that he mentioned to me is he…like, I actually don’t remember where this was on your board, but he has a board of, like, things that he’s up to, and one of them was play. I don’t even read…


Daniel: Play work. I can say that again.


Tiffany: Play work with children. And he mentioned that there actually is, like, a bad way to play with children. So I wanted to ask you what’s, like, the right way to play with children?


Daniel: Cool. I guess just to take a step back is that my…so my background is I’ve done stuff like run kids camps and things like that. I’ve done a lot of work with play and kids because that’s where a lot of the play theory comes from, a lot of…you know, if you say, “Who plays?” you’d say, “Kids play.” That’s the kind of common conception of things. But my work has really been about helping adults play, focusing on when we lose play why and how to bring it back into our lives, into our work, into everything really. So what I do is I steal from the world of children. I take play from…it’s like taking candy from a baby. No. It’s like taking…


Tiffany: Taking play away…


Daniel: …play from kids. So, yeah, one thing I did…and I guess over the last 18 months, I’ve really tried to expand all of the things that I’m doing in and around play. So, yeah, I guess one thing I did was this course on…it’s called Play Work Development. It’s actually really popular in the UK and almost nowhere else. They have courses over there on play work. And it’s essentially how to…it’s directed to teachers and early childhood educators. And it’s about how to allow children to play without disrupting their play and to understand what they are experiencing when they are playing. And one thing that teachers do a lot and parents as well is they’ll see a kid playing, and they’ll kind of insert themselves into it. And they’ll start trying to educate the kids through the play by, let’s say, they’re playing with cars, you know, playing by themselves with some toy cars, maybe even some, you know, whatever, they’ve got little landscape they might have made, and somebody will…you know, a teacher might come in and go, “Oh, what are you doing there?” and start asking a heap of questions, “Oh, how many cars are there?” you know, trying to see if they can…scaffold is the word, scaffold the education experience for the child so that if the kid says there are three cars here, they’re like, “Oh, look, I’ve taught them something to counter whatever.”


But in the child’s mind, this is completely unimportant. It’s not an interesting question. It’s not what they’re thinking about. And what it does is it destroys, and actually use the word annihilate which is a complete distraction of what’s called the play frame for that child where they’re completely absorbed in the activity. And they could be exploring all kinds of things like how…they might even be exploring things that they’ve seen like traffic. How does traffic move? That’s an interesting thing. What happens when I smash cars together? And they could have an entire fantasy narrative world going on in their head and then all of a sudden, this big huge thing comes in and starts asking them uninteresting, unimportant questions. So play work teaches you how to appreciate what the play cycle is. It’s this kind of model of the play cycle, which…and I’ll go through quickly because I think it’s really interesting.


Tiffany: I think it sounds interesting to me.


Daniel: So, have you ever seen a kid walking around in the playground, and they kind of, like, look not bored so much, is maybe even distracted, they’re kind of looking around and just walking aimlessly, let’s say. This is before the play frame has been created, and it’s called the metalude. And it’s where they’re, you know, open to playing but haven’t yet started. Then, something will happen in the environment. It could be a stick, a person, a piece of play equipment that offers them what’s called a play cue, so potato stick, the sticks…the stick is a cue in itself. It offers itself up to be picked up, to be jumped over, to be used in some way for play. So stick offers the cue, and then the next step in the cycle is that the child responds. So there’s the cue and the response, and the response could be picking up the stick. It could be jumping over the stick. Let’s say they pick it up, that’s the next part of the play cue.


Then what they’re doing is now they’ve got this stick, and they’re using it and someone say they’re banging on things, or they’re using it as a wand, or directing people. They’ve created a play frame. And that play frame is there in this world of play. It’s kind of the…there’s an idea of the magic circle that play theorist, Johan Huizinga, brings into an idea of things, and it’s this special space where all the rules are different, all of the metaphysics is different. What we understand is different in that play frame. To that kid, they’re in a world, let’s say, they’re at the opera house conducting an orchestra. They’re not in a park holding a stick. So that’s what the play frame is, this kind of really rich world. And kids can enter each other’s play frames so they could come in and, you know, “Oh, you’re in an orchestra,” they might pick up another stick and they’re a guitarist all of a sudden because they’ve entered the play frame, you know, properly. Teachers don’t enter properly.


Tiffany: You mean the play annihilators.


Daniel: The play annihilators. And when that happens…so, after the play frame is the annihilation of play, which can also happen from the kids as well. They’ve dropped the stick, that’s done, play frame is annihilated. They move back to the metalude where they’re walking around looking for the next cue. So appreciating that cycle is really important when you’re, you know, watching kids at recess or trying to, you know, teach them in some way through play, is to step gently into the play frame or to acknowledge what the frame is before you, you know, try to change it. And the play frame can evolve as well. So, it can continuously evolve as people joined on new cues, come and…so that’s kind of…that’s what I thought was a really interesting theory. And so, now, I try to take that and bring it into adult life. So that’s play work development.


Tiffany: Do you think adults or most adults are play annihilators or most adults…


Daniel: No.


Tiffany: …like able to enter a…like, if other adults are playing, are adults able to enter the play frame and, like, kind of jump in there and start playing as if they were kids?


Daniel: I would say our absolute natural ability is yes, and it’s only no for people who have…you know, there are lots of things that are…not people, I’m not going to divide people into groups, but things like self-consciousness or the relationships with the people that are in the play frame. Just the sense of confidence even might be a part of it. Or it’s over time we lose our ability to connect with people in a play space. But really, naturally, our empathic abilities, our natural hardwiring to empathize with other people and kind of even get into the minds of other people allows us to cue and response when it comes to entering somebody’s play frame.


So if you see a group of people throwing a ball around, you kind of, you know, walking past and smiling, and you lock eyes, and they throw the ball to you and you catch it, already you’re in their play frame. You understand more or less what’s going on. There might be rules you don’t know yet, but you’ll start to figure it out as, you know, the ball gets thrown around. And maybe they’ll say, “Oh, you’re out,” and you try to figure out why, but we can absolutely enter play frames. It’s things that, you know, we’ve accumulated on top of that over time that stop us really.


Tiffany: So, I’m getting, like, this image of these people who are dancing in a park. Now, like, my internal was like, “I really want to go dance with them.” I really want to go dance with them, but, like, I couldn’t move. That was the self-consciousness creeping in.


Daniel: Yeah. Totally.


Tiffany: I think I imagine them being like, “What are you doing? Stop dancing with us.”


Daniel: And what would have happened most likely if you just went up and started dancing?


Tiffany: Everyone probably would have kept dancing, and I knew that.


Daniel: Absolutely.


Tiffany: Like, I knew that but, like, the body wouldn’t move.


Daniel: It’s a bad muscle memory to stop us when we feel self-conscious. The funny thing is it’s not hard to overcome these barriers that we put up for ourselves. It’s just doing it, that one time you didn’t think you were going…and obviously there are ways that you can make it easier. But you do it once and the second time is easier, and the third time is easier. It’s kind of clichéd like that. But play really, it speaks to a deep natural drive in us to play.


Tiffany: The other thing was I don’t know why this is coming up, but I think in the book “Free Play,” there is a situation where a kid was walking through a park, and somebody stole his backpack, or a group of gang members stole his backpack, and an adult would have just let them steal it and walk away. But the kid, like, gave it a little think, and then he ran after the gang members. And he was like, “Hey,” like, “I need those things in my backpack.” Like, “Can I have my backpack back or something?” He entered some sort of like…almost like the reality that he experienced was just a play reality, and somebody took his backpack and he’s like, “I gotta go get that back.” So, the gang members were shocked, like completely shocked. They had no idea what to do other than just give him his backpack back. He’s like, “All right, thanks. Bye.” Then he, like, you know, ran home for dinner or something.


Daniel: We operate on these rules. We don’t realize how many rules we agree to tacitly that we follow without realizing it that are not necessary or not, you know…or easy to break through them just by doing the thing against the rule. So, that’s a great story. I like that one. And that’s what play helps you do. Play helps you to recognize and overcome the obstacles, these kind of conventions that are not necessary. Play ask gets you to test what are the limits of things, and that helps you to break rules, you know, that we obey without acknowledging.


Tiffany: Interesting. Another question was how does it…okay, here’s the one question, “Does play or can play help your relationships, or a persons relationships, and, like, how?”


Daniel: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I guess the first thing, we’re using the word play, and there’s an extent which is like, “Well, what is that? What are the definitions of that? You know, how would you say what play is?” And there are kind of two schools of thought generally in play theory. There’s, like, the narrow view and the broad view of play. The narrow view tries to, you know, define play clearly in, you know, very kind of clear terms. And the broad view, that’s me and others, is that we’re happy to use the word play for lots of different things and investigate how that connects to other things we’ve also used the word play for. So two very different things that don’t necessarily look like play, but both, let’s say, create a sense of social connection, allow us to think differently, or inspire our creativity, or give us a sense of broadening our expressive ability. All of these things are playful activities. So I’m happy to use play, you know, in all kinds of ways.


In relationships, I mean, humor, which is a subset of the world of play, gets our endorphins going. That’s great for connecting with people. And play helps us understand people. If I’m playing a game where I’m asked to make choices in particular contexts, I get to understand myself through the choices I make. It brings out emotions like, you know, whether I’m angry, or competitive, or relaxed through this play experience. So play basically tempers our emotions. It allows us to go through emotions and in a context, it’s not let’s say serious or…and they can be serious play, but or in a context that the stakes aren’t high, where failure is okay because it’s not real life in some way, and so these arenas of play allow us to act well beyond our normal expressive ways of being and make choices we don’t normally confront, and through that get to understand ourselves better.


So, in a relationship, if you play a game in a relationship, you’ll get to learn more about each other than, you know, other things that you might do. I mean, if we’re talking about relationships, there’s communication. So play helps us to explore communication in different ways. If we were to try and talk now in a way where we, I don’t know, don’t use particular words, we create constraints on how we communicate, we’ll find new avenues to communicate, and that will show us new ways of seeing each other rather than being in the same ways of communicating, maybe using buzzwords and talking about our relationship. If we limit constraints on how we do that, create essentially a game out of it in some way where there are some new rules that we have to follow, we’ll learn more about each other.


Tiffany: So, I think that’s an interesting point to just point out to the audience, putting a constraint or a limitation on something is a form of play. So, this is like a broad view that we’re talking about. I think a lot of people probably understand play as like playing a board game, which is also play. But there are certain ways to do things like I’m watching MAFS…


Daniel: Watching what?


Tiffany: MAFS.


Daniel: What’s that?


Tiffany: “Married at First Sight.” Don’t judge.


Daniel: Okay. Oh, no. Enjoy.


Tiffany: And last night’s episode, the producers gave a challenge to each of the couples. And the challenge was that they picked one person to be the leader all week and that being the leader meant that they had to make every single decision for their partner.


Daniel: Cool. How did that go?


Tiffany: And anywhere from what to wear every day to like what to say or what to eat. Like, it could be any of those ones. And so that’s also, like, a form of play. And it’s also, like, how do you deal with that power…how do you deal with having the power and then how does the other person also deal with losing the power.


Daniel: Power dynamics is all games and…not all games, most games and lots of play experiences explore power dynamics very directly. There’s also actually…I’ll recommend a book that when you said…talking about constraints and obstacles, there’s a book by Bernard Suits called “The Grasshopper.” He tries to define a game. It’s a very interesting book. It’s written by the grasshopper characters, you know, in the…I think it’s Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant. Over the summer, the grasshopper has a great time, the ant collects food. When winter comes, the grasshopper dies because he hasn’t collected any food and the ant is alive because he, you know, made sure to look after the future.


Tiffany: And they eat the grasshopper?


Daniel: No. The grasshopper just dies, just dies sadly. This book begins…and the kind of moral of that story is, you know, make sure that you work during the summer so you’re okay during the winter. This book begins with the grasshopper defending his decision to play until death rather than to work and save for the future. So, anyway, that’s where it begins. Along the hallway, it’s trying to define what is a game. And by the end, the definition is along the lines of creating unnecessary obstacles just so we can see what happens when we try to overcome those. So golf, if you looked at golf and would say, “Well, the aim is to get the ball in the hole” and say, “Well, why don’t you just go to the hole and put the ball in it?” It’s like, no, we make these unnecessary obstacles like having a weird stick to hit it with, having sand in the way…


Tiffany: Water.0


Daniel: …water, trees…


Tiffany: Wind.


Daniel: …wind. We create these unnecessary obstacles to see how we overcome them, and that’s basically part of what a game is. That’s kind of a rough, loose definition. So, yeah, that’s kind of exactly what constraints do, and constraints also in design, in the world of design, you know, they say, “You don’t come create ideas, you acknowledge constraints as a part of what design is all about.” I think it was Charles Eames who said constraint is the essence of design or something like that.


Tiffany: I love when things overlap like that because, I don’t know, like I was talking earlier about even this podcast, and I just love that space where so many different things overlap because you can kind of make connections to things that are completely unrelated. But I love that thing about design constraints.


Daniel: Yeah. Absolutely.


Tiffany: I’m going to take this super meta, or it may be super deep depending on how you look at it…


Daniel: I’ll go either way.


Tiffany: …but I’ve been studying the soul, and part of the belief behind the soul, or behind, like, the higher power is, like, everything is the same when you get to a certain level. And so, almost, like, somebody whoever is up there wanted to grow, but they wanted to do that through, like, forgetting who they were. So, like, everybody who’s inhabiting Earth, this is almost, like, a playground for growth. And the story had a point because it was… What were we talking about before…


Daniel: You started with the soul, we’re talking about obstacles, we’re talking about constraints, and then we got to the soul.


Tiffany: Oh, so, I think where I was going with that one is I think, like, seven…the belief is, like, there’s seven layers that…it’s hard to say we or them, so, like, we had to go through in order to forget who we were. And so when we’re here, we don’t really know where we came from, and the point of all of this, like, life here is to learn more about ourselves and to grow, but all of the obstacles that are put in place kind of give us that challenge about, like, who we are and making a choice and, like, how to grow from that. So when we were talking about obstacles and, golf, you could put the ball in the hole and I just related it to like, “Okay, you cannot be on Earth,” but then you have all these obstacles of things you have to do to get through the game, I guess.


Daniel: Yeah. I like that idea. I think the idea that we were on earth to remember…Socrates in…I think it’s the “Meno,” in one of his dialogues it talks about the fact that our soul has all knowledge before it enters our body on Earth and the rest of our life is to remember all of the knowledge that we had before we were embodied. So it might be an idea you’d like to look into. Interesting, if we’re talking about the level of the soul and, like, the, you know, the meta stuff around play, there’s some interesting stuff. One is if you look at the various religions of the world and the diet, talking about different deities, there are some particular deities for play in various, you know, cultures. There’s Loki who’s mischief and a few others. But play is not really acknowledged as a big part of the divine world for a lot of cultures, except in Hindu culture. In Hindu culture, there’s a really big acknowledgment of the value of play as being something that is a part of the world. There’s a kind of metaphysical appreciation of play…


Tiffany: That’s interesting.


Daniel: …which is very interesting.


Tiffany: What is their belief about play?


Daniel: I haven’t read that book yet, just the blurb and the person who referred me to it. And I think it was actually referred to in “The Ambiguity of Play,” which is by Brian Sutton-Smith. It’s a great book. And that talks about how play is ambiguous. It’s very hard to define all the different elements of it. But he talks kind of the major themes of play, being faith being a big part of play. And when cultures have tried to understand their future in order to get a sense of security and maybe even direction in the world, that’s kind of play. And, you know, there are dice games that people have used in the past to decide what choices they’re going to make. You know, in a way, the play of faith is a big part of how we see ourselves, you know, how we navigate the world.


Then there’s, like, the idea, this rhetoric around progress that we play in order to develop ourselves, that animals play for the…in evolutionary biology, play has driven our development, our growth. That’s where the rhetoric of progress and it comes into early childhood, why we play with kids because we think it’ll help them learn and grow. And that might be true as well, but there’s ambiguity around that as well. So I love he just kind of points out all the gray areas, the play in between these different rhetorics. And there’s one other thing actually that you made me think of before. I don’t know if I’ll remember it immediately.


Tiffany: Okay. We can come back to it. I really wanted to ask you about clown work, but before we go there, is it possible to play with people who aren’t playful?


Daniel: Yeah. That’s partly my job, is to go into a business context and to convince the, I guess, what we call hostages that play is fun and easy, and fun, and meaningful, and useful. I always start with…I like the big level theory…Oh, now I remembered what I was gonna say, there are some theorists who say that play is the driving force of the entire universe that from the Big Bang, it’s the universe kind of evolving through the play of things. Evolution is the play of, you know, organisms and things like that. So there’s a lot of really wonderful big picture stuff on how play drives everything. And I guess related to this all, I, for a little bit, thought that if the soul is the animating force of any living thing, and I also see play as the animating drive for any living thing, there is a very strong connection between play and soul. Solace and playful feel opposites to me as ideas anyway.


Tiffany: Interesting.


Daniel: So, yes, a lot of people who…I’ve run workshops where I say, “What brings you here?” and they’ll say, “Well, I’ve been at a desk for 40 years, and I haven’t played in that time. I’d like to reignite that in myself.” So those are people who want to become playful. And then there are people who are sitting in a workshop that they have to be in, and they don’t want to play at all, and so what I do is I do kind of two things. I always start with big picture theory, and I talk about, you know, philosophers and scientists who talked about the value of play so that, you know, the neuroscience and things like that so that they are bought in on an intellectual level. And then I always start with really, really simple, kind of low-level activities that immediately get them kind of warmed into the idea of play. I can do the first one with you now if you want.


Tiffany: Okay. Let’s do it.


Daniel: Some of these will be strange with two people, but we’ll work it out. I always start like this. I say, “Put your left hand up like this,” and for those of you listening, like this is kind of like you’re holding a waiter’s…


Tiffany: Yeah, like a waiter.


Daniel: Yeah. Like a waiter walking around with a plate and holding glasses on it. So imagine you’re holding a dinner plate there. I say, “Have a look at it,” and if you…imagine there is a dinner plate there and imagine your favorite meal. So start to pictures it. I like to say that, “If your mouth isn’t watering, then you’re not imagining hard enough.” And then I ask them to take their other hand and put it kind of the index finger up pointing at the sky, they’re in a big circle, and I go, “One, two, three, put your finger in the dinner of the person next to you like that,” and as the hand touches their palm. And they all kind of go…a bit of squirming and, you know. And then I whip around the circle and have everyone say what meal do your partner has their finger in, and we’ll go around and say that, and then they put their hands down.


So, I like that because there’s a few key elements in there. One, I get them to start imagining. Even if it’s just a fake meal, their favorite meal they start imagining. If it’s something nice, their favorite meal, easy to imagine. There’s a funny moment of reveal wherein all of a sudden their finger is in someone’s dinner and inevitably they start to make a noise…like that. And it means they’re picturing that happening. They’re kind of bought into the play frame that I’ve created there. The finger touching someone else’s palm as kind of minimal physical touch, and that’s really powerful for us to feel connected to other people to start our empathic circuits from connecting with each other as just a moment of touch. Then, they make eye contact as they say…I say, “Make eye contact as you say your favorite meal to each other.” And that’s again, another part of the empathic circuits running. And they share something personal about themselves, their favorite meal, not hard, easy to share, not vulnerable about it, nothing, you know, too hard there. And, already, they’ve had a really, really easy play experience, and they start to trust that I’m not going to push anyone out of their comfort zone, and I’m not going to make it awkward, or weird, or uncomfortable, or to or too silly.


And then, by the end of the workshop, as easily jumping into far more, you know, elaborate and silly circumstances because I’ve [inaudible 00:29:44], and they’ve bought into the value of it all through the theory and the intellectual stuff. So that’s kind of how I approached the unplayful.


Tiffany: I really do want to get to clown work at some point, but I always wondered…


Daniel: Sorry to interrupt. I just have to give a credit for that game to a guy named Marcus Veerman who runs an organization called Playground Ideas. He taught me that game. They build playgrounds for kids in the developing world to provide them much needed play spaces. So he taught me that, and I use that basically at the start of every workshop.


Tiffany: I’ve been to two of your workshops, and I loved them.


Daniel: You did that? Okay, cool.


Tiffany: Yes.


Daniel: So I’m not lying.


Tiffany: Oh, man, wait, I think I’ve got…


Daniel: Sorry, I know I’m taking you off track.


Tiffany: That’s okay. No, it’s good to have the credit in there. I’ll leave his details in there, in the show notes.


Daniel: Details, yeah, great organization. I love to promote them.


Tiffany: I was gonna say…oh, here’s what I was gonna say or ask, like, I’ve always wanted to experience an example of how…like, even though I’ve taken your workshops, and I’m a believer in play, I’ve never really experienced how play can help a situation, like in a real-life situation. So, like, is there anything we could do to…


Daniel: It depends on the situation. Like, I mean, humor is disarming. So, if you’re in a conflict situation or an awkward situation, an appropriate approach to humor can totally change the vibe, the feeling. It can relax people. It can make people feel, like in a crisis, things are actually in more control than they are, that people are safe. Humor makes people often feel a little bit safe as well, if it’s appropriate. So here’s one kind of other example, but I’m happy to think and explore something here and now.


Tiffany: I guess maybe it’s not that I can’t imagine how it would help a situation, maybe it’s just that when I’m in a situation where it could work, my mindset is not geared towards play. Do you know what I mean?


Daniel: Yeah.


Tiffany: Like, let’s say if you’re in a heated situation…or it doesn’t have to be heated but, like, a stressful or something, usually you’re just on that stop path, that road down like stress. You don’t think like, “Oh, I can use play right now.” So how do you gear your mindset towards play, or how would you like…?


Daniel: I mean, when you’re in a stressful situation, or if you’re even overwhelmed at work, or if you’re exhausted and tired, or whatever, play is energizing. And it can be doing something as simple as take yourself out of the situation, go for a walk and play I Spy with yourself, which is a kind of meditative game of seeing things that you can observe, or you could play I Hear, and you could maybe sit somewhere close your eyes and try to identify all the sounds you hear. These are kind of meditation experiences, but, you know, they’re also a playful meditation experience. So you could do that.


One thing that you can also do is you can say…I use game design a lot for things like service design. So if you wanted a journey map, or user experience, or a customer experience, I use structures from game design because I think they take into account far more than any other structure I’ve seen. So you could say…I don’t know what the context is, let’s say you’re trying to problem solve something that’s very difficult. You could say, “What if this were a game?” and you’d have to define the rules, you’d have to define the players, you’d have to define the kind of artifacts or objects that have meaning in this play context. Other than the rules, they’d be goals like what does win look like, what does lose look like. And even though, you know, you can do these in other frameworks where it’s like what are my KPIs, or what are my threats, or who are the key stakeholders, these are kind of other terms for players and rules and all that. Talking about it…


Tiffany: What success, what’s failure.


Daniel: Yeah. Talking about it, simply changing the language…language is very important. It makes a huge difference. Talking about it even in that language immediately creates a sense of kind of quarantines it from the rest of the serious world where the stakes are high. And lowering the stakes enables greater creativity, you’re more relaxed, you’re able to think clearer and think better. And so doing that, I think that’s a good process for saying, “What if I were to call this a game, define all those elements, and then…” So way of thinking differently, so new things will open up, or new things will present themselves to you, you’re probably going to be more relaxed, probably find it easier to jump into the challenge. Even if you’re like doing a boring task like let’s say you’re trying to input data into an Excel spreadsheet, if you were to do a playful thing like commentate that as though it was a sports match or it’s like, “And I’m putting in data cell number one, and data cell number two, and data cell number three for the home run.” I mean, you know, that kind of a…yeah, I mean, it’s strange for people to just start doing. One of the things about breaking a cycle is to just start doing it. You can’t really rationalize your way into it because you won’t allow yourself to in a context that you’re stressed. So it’s almost like it’s just jumping in the deep end of a pool and deciding to use that framework knowing, trusting that it will be valuable if you try it. And if it’s not valuable at the end of it, well, the stakes weren’t that high anyway.


Tiffany: And, also, I think usually when you just start something, you don’t see the value in it. It’s almost always a leap of faith, and then when you start doing it and kind of build on it, then it becomes a valuable tool because you have it in your toolbox, and then you start turning to it for situations that you wouldn’t have done before.


Daniel: So something like, you know, I mentioned commentating before. That seems silly, but I like to give some of the theory behind it. It starts to create a narrative around something that doesn’t have fun, that narrative, and narrative is basically the unit of meaning for human beings, how we understand things is basically through narrative. So if you can add a sense of greater meaning or purpose to a boring task by creating a fictional narrative, then great, that’s important. Narrative is an important part of being human and important part of play.


Tiffany: What are your go-tos? One is creating like…I don’t know what the term you called it, but one was, like, changing the language and creating the structure.


Daniel: Yeah.


Tiffany: And then you mentioned, like, taking a pause and playing I Spy or I Hear, what are your personal go-tos when you’re in a situation that needs play, that need some play?


Daniel: I do a lot of doodling. I like to I said play-crastinate, so like my board which is kind of a visual map of the things that I’m doing. I like to do that because I like drawing. Drawing is very relaxing. You have to kind of be still when you draw. It’s includes finding a comfortable place often to do it. Even choosing to do any activity in which you carve out time to do that thing only is halfway there to helping you get through whatever the situation is. So, yeah, I like to draw. I often draw like mind maps and things like that because it gets things out of my head and onto a page. It physicalizes things. When I do Lego Serious Play stuff, which is about thinking and communicating using Lego bricks, that’s a way to get things out of your head and into something physical. It’s like in Harry Potter, the pensive that, you know, they put the wand on their brain and this wisp of white comes out and they put it in a little shallow bowl of water. I think it brings to mind how alleviating it is, how much relief you can get just from taking something out of the, like, circuitry of your thinking and outside of you. So I like to do that a lot. I’m also playing quite a bit in my day-to-day.


Tiffany: Yeah. It’s true.


Daniel: So, I get home and think television often.


Tiffany: Why do call Lego play Serious Play?


Daniel: Oh, there’s actually a particular methodology called Lego Serious Play that was developed by Lego in conjunction with some people from a business school. I think it was in the late ’90s they started working on it, and then it was in 2010, they couldn’t really make a business out of it, so they open-sourced all of what they’d learned, all of their research. And now, anybody can be trained to be a Lego Serious Play facilitator, and it’s a particular process for using Lego to communicate ideas and also to create new ideas because the Lego, first of all, creates a hand-brain connection, which is really valuable and important. If you want, I can go into the neuroscience of the hand-brain connection and how it helps creativity, but I’ll skip that for now and you can ask me later. But then this method is basically a way…


Tiffany: We’ll have to do a second, and a third…


Daniel: Footnotes.


Tiffany: …and a fourth podcast.


Daniel: And do footnotes for the first one.


Tiffany: And a fifth, and a sixth.


Daniel: So it creates a hand-brain connection, great for creative thinking. Next, it forces you to talk in metaphor because you’re building out of Lego bricks and you’re like, “This, you know, green brick represents our green strategy,” whatever it is.


Tiffany: So, it’s like dreams.


Daniel: Yeah, exactly. You’re kind of abstracted away from the same ideas you use time and time again, and then forced to use new ideas to talk in…they are the two parts, the metaphor and story. So you tell the story of your build using a metaphor, and that’s just a different way to look at this…it’s something you’ve looked at the same way time and time again. So I’d run those kind of workshops with people. So it’s a good thing too. Sometimes I’ll grab a bit of Lego and just build with it as a kind of distraction and sometimes as a way of thinking, and sometimes as a way of communicating an idea. Yeah. So that’s Lego.


Tiffany: That’s interesting. That just reminds me of, like, intuitive work because I’ve studied a lot of…well, at one point in time, I thought I didn’t have an intuition. And so, like…


Daniel: Okay.


Tiffany: Yeah. So like for…


Daniel: Did you think you just rationalize everything?


Tiffany: Yeah.


Daniel: Yeah?


Daniel: Or thoughts, things, like more thinking, but actually, after studying intuition, I’m more intuitive than I am thinking. And it’s been apparent. Like, one of the things is usually people who don’t speak in, like, full sentences are very intuitive because they’re more like right-brain, and people who speak in long sentences and, like, can explain themselves and just keep going, and going, and going and talking are more left-brain and, like, more thinking person.


Daniel: That’s me. Yeah.


Tiffany: So if you were to ask me a question, I would give you one more to answer. This is why I’m doing the interviewing.


Daniel: I’ll give you a page with footnotes.


Tiffany: Yeah. This is why I’m the one asking questions. Hey, I’m not really a talker, but that’s just one of the things. But anyways…


Daniel: Cool. Interesting.


Tiffany: …part of intuitive work is, like, for example, tarot cards are a tool to access your intuition. The cards don’t do anything.


Daniel: No. I love tarot for that reason.


Tiffany: Yeah. It’s a form of accessing your intuition. You can tell a story through the cards almost like you would tell a story through your Lego build. That almost will have nothing to do with the cards, but you’re telling it because it’s coming…it’s almost a distraction for you.


Daniel: Yeah. That’s incredible. Tarot is in the subset of play things that I have, tarot cards and a book on how to do tarot, yeah, because of that. Exactly.


Tiffany: It’s very interesting, the connections here. I am, like, chomping it a bit to get to clown work.


Daniel: Okay, cool.


Tiffany: So let’s talk about cloud work a little bit. What is it, and why are you interested in it, and how do you do it?


Daniel: I did a couple of eight-week courses in clowning. It’s called clowning. It’s a style of theater. It’s not a circus clown, juggling and blowing up balloons and…


Tiffany: Trapeze.


Daniel: …pie in the face kind of stuff though that’s kind of, you know, not unrelated. It’s actually more a style of theater that I think the biggest practitioners known worldwide who kind of founded it, I think, really in the modern World War, two French guys, the Lecoq and Gaulier, and they teach this style of theater. How do I describe what the clown is? The clown has one task and one task only, and that is to make you laugh. And the clown needs to make you laugh, and it’s every moments life purpose. And so, in clown training, you’re put in situations where you’re given no cue, no direction, nothing to rely on, it’s just you in front of a group of people and your job is to make them laugh and sustain their laughter, and not with comedy or jokes, with your physicality, with your emotional expression, both in face and body, and vocalizations like…you know, whatever they might be…


Tiffany: So you don’t really talk?


Daniel: I don’t really talk. You can talk, you don’t have to not talk as a clown, but most clowning, you’ll see, it’s expressed through body, face, and sound that’s not words. And it is incredibly challenging you because the audience are not going to…in the clown training, the audience are not meant to laugh unless they really find something funny. So there are kind of few key ideas. One is the flop that the clown always fails because you eventually will fail, you will always fail, but the clown persists no matter what. No matter how often they fail, they’ll fail time and time again, but they must make you laugh, or they’ll die. Like, that’s the approach of the clown. And traditionally, clown teachers are very, very cruel, incredibly harsh to you. If you’re not funny, they will gong you off the stage. They will abuse you. They’ll tell you that you’re terrible, you’re worth nothing. So there is a sense of kind of breaking down and becoming incredibly vulnerable, an egoless desire to make people laugh.


And I went through that training, two eight-week courses with a guy named Fabio Mata who’d studied under Gaulier in France. And it’s, like, people cry. It’s so hard. People would quit. People don’t come back. But what it does is it awakens you to the micro-expressions that people have, the sensitivity of a moment, the sensitivity of timing. And, yeah, it was just training I wanted to do because I was exploring new things in play. And you learn complicité, which is how to work with another person, how to be completely in tune with another person that you’re onstage with, that you’re trying to make other people laugh with. And you’re also often highly responsive to the audience. You have no script, you have nothing to do but try and make them laugh. So if you get a giggle for something that you’ve done, you might explore that. If it was a funny way that your leg moved, then you might, you know, try and do that again and do that again. It might work again another couple of times, then all of a sudden it doesn’t work and you’re left once again stranded without a way to make people laugh, and you have to kind of deal with that sense of being in a complete abyss and finding your way out.


Tiffany: What’s the internal journey of doing that, of, like, taking the class? Other than being kind of like being down and abused, what goes on inside?


Daniel: Part rationalizing what should I do, what should I work. The teacher will say, “Don’t have ideas. I don’t wanna see you have an idea.” And then later will say, “Where was the idea in that?” you’re often presented with paradoxes that leave you completely confused.


Tiffany: That’s so life.


Daniel: Yeah, that’s right, leaves you completely confused, you don’t know what to do and how to interpret it, and that’s where a huge amount of intuition comes in, where you’re guided by your gut, you’re guided by the tingling that happens or the physiology that your skin starts to, you know, maybe sweat a little bit. And so you’re trying to basically become sensitive to all of that and let it guide you in however you perform. So it’s incredibly raw, vulnerable, emotional kind of work. And, yeah, and that’s the kind of thing. That’s what that’s all about.


Tiffany: And, like, what kind of people do this and why?


Daniel: Comedians. A lot of comedians will do it to help them, you know, get on stage. And the life of a stand-up comedian is basically failure, so…


Tiffany: That’s exactly what I thought when you said your purpose is to make people laugh and you fail. Like, you will fail endlessly. A stand-up comedian is the first thing that popped into my head.


Daniel: Absolutely. So, a lot of stand-up comedians do that. Anyone in theater or performance would look to potentially doing it just to make them a more confident performer or a more sensitive performer. That’s the reason people do it. I did it because I like play, and I wanted to explore it. And, yeah, the other thing that might come out of it is I might do a bit of clown doctor work, which is where you go into hospitals with terminally ill children and try to make them laugh. And clown training allows you to be in this place of great sensitivity like a terminally ill patient and see lightheartedness in that and to not be overwhelmed by the heaviness of terminal illness. Kind of everything becomes…sadness, you can laugh while crying, and that’s what the clown learns that there isn’t a clear distinction between our emotions. We can have all of them at once. It’s intense.


Tiffany: That’s so interesting. So have you been practicing?


Daniel: I did the course kind of at the start of last year and then towards the end of last year. This year, I haven’t done anything. I’m doing some comedy cabaret work with my sister, who I perform with, in April at the Comedy Festival. So there’s a very physical show. It’s a story that shows a narrative, but the physicality of the show I think the clown work would, you know, definitely help with that, being in tune with my, you know, co-performer is also the clown work will help with that. So, essentially, I’m bringing it into that theater experience for now.


Tiffany: So interesting. I feel like one of the things that I think makes a life more enjoyable is that sensitivity you’re talking about that clowning gives you, or gave you, or gives people because when you start to notice, like, the subtleties in things, in other people, but also in yourself because in order to notice it in somebody else, you have to be familiar with what it is inside of you.


Daniel: Totally.


Tiffany: It kind of just makes life a little bit more interesting. And by a little bit, I mean a lot of it.


Daniel: I think it also makes life a lot easier when you can I guess…it allows you to be more comfortable with a wider range of emotions, everything from grief, to great joy, and confusion, and anxiety, and whatever else might come in between, the clown work helps you to kind of go, “Well, how can I use this to guide whatever I’m doing? And how can I sit with this comfortably and feel it without being overwhelmed by it?” So that’s kind of a really valuable part of it as well.


Tiffany: Oh, that’s so interesting because in…


Daniel: I recommend it to everyone.


Tiffany: Yeah. And in life, a lot of times we try to push away what we’re feeling and not really feel them. And sometimes when we try to push them away, they almost never go away because they just keep coming back. But in order to feel something, you have to, like, experience it, and feel it, and then you can kind of let it go. It’s kind of like a kid, a kid needs to, like, experience their new toy before being able to share it.


Daniel: Absolutely.


Tiffany: It’s like you need to experience that feeling before you’re able to, like, get over the feeling, but we’re so much, as like humans, just taught, I think mostly taught to just be like, “I’m uncomfortable with that, and I’m not going to feel it. Let’s put it under the rug where all the other feelings are.” Then, all of a sudden you get numb and you’re like, “What am I feeling? What are these?”


Daniel: And then you come to a play workshop and you put your hand up and say, “I haven’t felt anything for 40 years. Help me.” I’ll give you actually a really good example of one moment that happened in a clowning class. So the teacher asked this girl who was in the class, he said, “Think of a happy moment.” And she goes “Okay, picking blueberries with my dad.” And he goes, “Great. Sing about it.” She was a little bit nervous. She says, “Okay.” She started singing, “I love picking blueberries with my dad,” about 10 seconds into singing she becomes visibly embarrassed. She goes red, and she starts crying. And he goes, “Keep singing.” She looks into him and go, “Seriously?” He goes, “Keep singing,” in the kind of cruel clown way the teacher does. And she kept singing, and she’s bawling her eyes out singing a song about a happy memory picking blueberries with her dad. And everyone in the class basically were completely moved by it and burst out laughing. They were laughing at it. They weren’t crying. They found it hysterical and, you know, sad and hysterical. And by the end of it, it was like she came back the next week for sure with bells on because of whatever she went through, I don’t know. She didn’t talk about it afterwards, but from our experience it was hilarious, and entertaining, and absorbing, and engaging. For her, it was whatever it was. I’m sure something incredible. It was just a really great moment to show how that kind of…it’s a moment of clowning that I think, you know, kind of shows what it’s all about.


Tiffany: Oh, wow. Whoa. I want to do it.


Daniel: Yeah. You should do it.


Tiffany: I’m scared though.


Daniel: Yeah. Oh, it’s terrifying.


Tiffany: Sign me up.


Daniel: Yeah. Exactly.


Tiffany: All right, well, do you have any, like, last things that you want to talk about, or any shares with the audience, or any asks of the audience?


Daniel: I guess my biggest ask to everybody is to say play is a thing, a thing in itself that you can look into. Make it a subject, put a capital letter on the P and say play is a thing, and start exploring whatever that means, whatever that leads you in your journey of learning and curiosity, could lead you to anthropology, neuroscience, theories about work, art, creativity, music, all of life, includes some aspects, some thread of play’s weaved through all of life and everything we do in life. And if you choose to target the threads that you’re most curious about, you’ll find something valuable, something that can really help you do that better and fun. And not always just fun, engaging, I’d say engaging. It keeps you alive, drives you to keep going. That’s the key element of play, not fun so much as a desire to continue.


Tiffany: Thank you so much.


Daniel: That’s great.


Tiffany: Yeah. That’s awesome.


Daniel: Thank you. It’s fun.


Tiffany: All right. I don’t know what I was gonna say something, but that’s it.


Daniel: Cool.


Tiffany: All right. Thank you so much for coming on the show…


Daniel: Oh, we didn’t do any play-based stuff together. Did you want to do any more of that or…?


Tiffany: You know what, I feel like you really helped with the real-life examples. Somewhere in this recording, I was like, “I don’t understand how it’s applicable,” and then you gave me a bunch of ways that it’s applicable.


Daniel: Yeah. Cool.


Tiffany: And also, like, I think even the clowning gave away that of how it’s applicable.

Daniel: That’s right. It’s just I think that…


Tiffany: It’s like therapy.


Daniel: Yeah. Totally. I can give you two quick stories, actually, that also I use in my workshops very quickly just because it hammers home how valuable that can be. One, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, when they were losing a whole lot of engineers who helped get us to the moon, they started hiring new recruits, you know, the youngest and brightest people, they found they didn’t problem solve as well as the generation before. And they found the generation before spent time doing things with their hands, playing with their hands, taking apart bikes, making transistor radios, and that helps with problem solving in general. So now, if you’re applying for a job at NASA, they will ask about your history playing with things with your hands.


Tiffany: Oh, interesting. That’s that brain-hand connection right there.


Daniel: And taking things apart helps you understand systems. So that was a part of that.


Tiffany: One time I decided to take my phone apart.


Daniel: Oh, really? Yeah, and?


Tiffany: And I put it…I mean, I put it back together. I didn’t take it apart though. Like, I just took everything out, I didn’t organize it, and then when I was putting it back together, it’s like, “What did I do?” I kind of liked to take things apart.


Daniel: It’s great.


Tiffany: It ended up being fine. I was able to put it back together.


Daniel: Yeah. Exactly.


Tiffany: And I felt proud of myself for being able to do that.


Daniel: And this is where I think that story and the one I’m about to tell, the message is do things that seem purposeless because it will ultimately bring you great value whether you know it or not. Purposelessness is important. We are driven by purpose all the time, and play helps us engage with a sense of purposelessness. And that can do wonders to our thinking and emotional state, everything.


Tiffany: I love that. I love purposelessness. I think everybody, especially like, you know, like my mom, “What are you doing that for?” It’s like do I need to have an answer? Because I want to.


Daniel: Yeah. Exactly.


Tiffany: Because I’m curious about it.


Daniel: Because I want it. Exactly.


Tiffany: Because I can’t stop myself from doing it.


Daniel: Great. That’s what play is, the drive to engage with something and see what happens when you muck around with it, or, you know. So that’s exactly what that’s all about.


Tiffany: I think she’s a play annihilator.


Daniel: That’s right, exactly. The other story is just Steve Jobs gives a commencement speech in 2005, where he talks about his…he did calligraphy, you know, at uni, at college. And you know, it was purposeless at the time, and it’s the reason we have fonts on computers now. So the whole of that is because he did something to distract himself, that he was curious about, that was, you know, just different to what he was meant to be doing.


Tiffany: That’s a great one. Thank you for sharing.


Daniel: Thank you.


Tiffany: Thank you so much for being here. This was such an amazing podcast and…


Daniel: Thanks for having me.


Tiffany: …I’m really glad we got to record this.


Daniel: Thanks.


Tiffany: So, thank you so much.


Daniel: It’s fun.


Tiffany: All right.

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