Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Artificial Boundary Between Work and Play

At age 5, work for me meant also looking the part. After helping my grandfather dig postholes and repair fence line on the now-100-year-old Idaho ranch he had homesteaded but back then had turned over to my parents, my face didn’t show how hard I had been working.

So while my grandfather was reloading tools, I flipped the windshield visor down in the Jeep I was to inherit as my first car a decade later and, using both hands, transferred the dust I found there to my forehead and cheeks.

Even though my Dad would come in from working the ranch each night “feelin’ about half past dead” to borrow the great line penned by country-rocker Robbie Robertson, it was never lost on me, as we all gathered around to watch him eat “bread and milk” from a glass, that as we did we could see in his face how much he thoroughly loved working livestock along the Henry’s Fork in that Yellowstone-Teton nook of Eastern Idaho.

I was surrounded by adults for whom the boundaries between work and play were clearly artificial, something researchers later documented just after I came of age, yet it remains an area where business still lags behind science today. It is part of the fascinating story about motivation in Daniel Pink’s 2009 book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Back while I was working at “looking the part,” I was also working up to getting to ride in my first cattle round-up at age 6 while also learning the lesson that researchers have since documented: For people who find passion and engagement, work can be even more fun than play.

I was also a little puzzled as an adult by people who only worked as a means to go play when I was having as much or more enjoyment in my work.

At an early age, I experienced what Pink adapts from the groundbreaking work of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mee-hy cheek-sent-mÉ™-hy-ee) about the three pillars of passionate and engaged work:

  • “autonomy - the desire to direct our own lives,”
  • “mastery - the urge to get better and better at something that matters” and,
  • “purpose - the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

Most were seasonal, some for only a few weeks or months but these pillars were reinforced during nearly every one of the 31 jobs I held in the years before starting my now-concluded four-decade career in community/destination marketing.

Ironically, two hundred years ago early pioneers in tourism may have contributed to the notion that is still so deeply embedded in today’s workforce that work and play are polar opposites. These people are easy to spot because they see work only as something you have to do and play as something you want to do.

Today there are many, even members of younger generations, who seem to work so incredibly hard at taking vacations, often requiring a “sick day” to recuperate before they return and then complaining mightily that they have fallen so far behind. They can’t fathom how people like me get as much or more pleasure from our work as we do from leisure or how 46% of us now can find peace of mind by occasionally checking in via email while we’re on vacation.

In her 1999 book Working At Play, Dr. Cindy Aron, a professor at the University of Virginia which is a three-hour drive north of where I live, chronicles the history of vacations in America.

Over the initial objections of religious leaders, early marketers first promoted vacations “from” work for health reasons beginning in the late 1700s to mid-1800s. When vacations accelerated after the Civil War, especially between 1870 and 1900 with the emergence of the middle class, they expanded to include recreation (amusements were still considered wicked) and then for self-improvement and education and then sightseeing for scenery, history and culture or to rusticate.

Even the dawning of large meetings, conventions, congresses and assemblies were rationalized as “working” family vacations and spurred the formation of the first community/destination marketing organization (DMOs) in 1896 to draw visitors to Detroit.

By 1914, the idea of community/destination marketing had caught on the what is now Destination Marketing Association International was formed. Now evolved to pursue every type of visitor-centric economic and cultural development DMOs exist in more than a thousand communities in North American and several thousand more worldwide.

Today, within the United States alone, each year Americans log 1.5 billion leisure person-trips over and above the 448 million person-trips taken for business purposes each year (including conventions and meetings,) and 62% try to also tie leisure into at least one trip a year with two-thirds bringing family or friends.

Increasingly though, an economy driven by the Creative Class is beginning the long-overdue upgrade of what Pink terms the “operating system” for work and leisure to “motivation 3.0.”

In her new book Now You See It: How The Brain Science of Attention Will Transform The Way We Live, Work, and Learn, Cathy N. Davidson traces the origins of the now-dated “operating system” that still artificially segregates work and play.

She also makes a compelling argument that, in order to be relevant and effective both public education and the workplace must transform by rapidly adapting to the Internet.

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