Forget Gold: Play For The Brass Ring

Saving face could mean losing ourselves

Photo by C.S. Imming –  Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo by C.S. Imming – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cajoling executives to play is hard work.

Fear is a funny thing. It can make us do the strangest things and avoid what might actually be gifts.

It also pairs dangerously with ego. They bring out the worst in each other.

Lately we’ve been holding a number of trainings. At each, we bring people to the Playground.

The Playground is for playing. It is for taking risks. It is for trying something new and then figuring out how to adjust it for next time. It is for imagination and improvisation. It is a “get your silly on” kinda place.

And that scares the heck out of many who find themselves there.

It’s understandable. As we get older, we have more skin in the game and therefore, more potential face to save. Of course, saving face leads to playing it safe, which leads to stagnation and becoming boring.

And so we play. To remember who we are deep down in all the nooks and crannies, and who we could be. We play to release our fear, lose our self-consciousness, and gain a fuller version of ourselves.

No one shuts down because they want to stagnate – it’s because they want to feel safe.

At first, the hard part to grasp in the training is that the Playground is a very special place. There is room for everyone and their individual quirks and no space for judgment, cliques, or cutting remarks. The Playground is designed for discovery, fun, and growth. And yes, a great deal of effort. Play full or stay home.

If you ask me, we need more Playgrounds in life.

We’ve had people split their pants (trousers if you are in the UK) in the Playground. Right up the middle. Splitting your pants gets a round of laughter and often a round of applause.

What happens immediately after is the Moment of Truth.

Imagine. Your pants are split. Nothing is showing (we delicately check) and now what? Do you tie something around your waist and get back in the game or do you bench yourself?

I’ve seen it go both ways in the Playground. I’ve seen the person embrace his or her split, share a laugh with everyone and go on to inspire them to take bigger risks themselves because everyone just learned that in the Playground, splitting your pants doesn’t destroy you: you get to decide how it affects you. It can actually raise the room and make you the stuff of legend.

And while I’d love for every pants split to result in personal empowerment, sometimes the person doesn’t get past the impulse to curl up and hide. One executive actually left the training for over an hour to run to the store and buy new pants. Interestingly, the pants were a dark color and the split was positioned in such a way that even with movement, you couldn’t tell. But the idea of the split was paralyzing.

Going “full out” and doing something unknown (and often with a ridiculous bent, in our case) is no easy feat. Taking those risks amongst your peers is an act of courage and faith.  A desire to reach beyond that is strong enough to override a fear of falling below.

I liken it to reaching for the brass ring on a carousel.

For those who aren’t familiar with fairgrounds and the like, look closely at your surroundings as you ride a carousel; sometimes, you'll see a single, brass ring either in a dispenser or attached to the canopy. The ring is high and, for many, out of reach. You might throw yourself off balance (and possibly off your horse) in order to reach it. The custom goes that if you grab the brass ring, you get a free ride. And the thrill of knowing you did something daring.

In the Playground, we spend the day reaching for the brass ring, over and over again. Only when you grab the brass ring in the Playground, you don’t get a free ride: you figure out how to fly.