Play. Learn. Produce.


Dr. Rosh Rupani and Dr. Sreyoshi Bhaduri

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Many of us are finding renewed joy in our hobbies during these challenging times that we’re living in! For Sreyoshi, cooking has been her unwinding tool. With all the volatility that surrounds us, there’s a quote from the movie Julie and Julia which captures the assurances that cooking can provide.

“I love that after a day when nothing is sure and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. You can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. That’s such a comfort.”

Cooking, however, is more than assurance. Cooking is also playing!

It is experimentation, trial and error, failing, and trying again until one figures out what works.

While growing up in India, Sreyoshi remembers her mother encouraging her to try different flavor combinations while they cooked together. One day, she thought of adding some chili flakes to the boiling water as she prepped a cup of masala chai. A bizarre addition which she was hesitant about. Her mother loved the idea and said that she should give it a try! Minutes later they found that the heat from the chili flakes worked very well with the other herbs and essences. Their playful approach to making chai rewarded them with a new and tasty flavor profile! Many years later, roaming the streets of Brooklyn New York, Sreyoshi stopped by a cafe for a drink. Lo and behold – chili-spiced chai latte was a part of the menu! Someone miles away had played with their tea too and capitalized on it!

Incorporating playfulness can extend beyond the kitchen. Playfulness also allows for learning and development in our professional settings.

Children naturally indulge in playful learning but by the time they become adults that exploratory spirit seems to get passive or filtered. Adult learning theories provide insight into how adults learn through interactions and experiences in various contexts. And yet very few adults engage in creative play, however, it is when adult-like rationality and child-like imagination meet that the most effective and innovative solutions are found.

Innovative solutions are a direct result of individuals playing with the new and unknown. These fearless adopters are more apt at riding the innovation wave, as compared to their peers. Think about the diffusion of innovation theory – it is the innovators who are venturesome and willing to try out new ideas, with very little guidance.


Figure – Diffusion of Innovation by Bryan Mathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

Think about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on learning. With limitations on face-to-face classes, it is through emergency online mode that instructors were forced to continue their courses. These pivots in learning may be a source of anxiety for both students and teachers. Similarly, in industry, managers and workers alike are struggling with the new norms of keeping up with connectedness and productivity through online channels while being physically distanced. Introducing elements of play in day-to-day work can help foster innovation and boost productivity. While encouraging play may not come naturally to some managers or leaders, it can be helpful to borrow ideas from parents and teachers. Just as parents and teachers often encourage children to learn by play, leaders can encourage their employees too!

Here are some ideas to do so –  

  1. Create an inclusive environment that encourages play and learning from failure – employees will likely not indulge in playful learning if they feel vulnerable or threatened. Creating safe and brave spaces that encourage success by allowing employees to describe and share lessons learned from failure could be one way of encouraging play. This can be especially helpful while trying new software or making existing ones work better for an expanded set of requirements, now that we are mostly online.
    1. Nudge your employees by saying “Try it out…” “Play around with that new software…” “Let’s see what you find…” “This is new, let’s explore it…” Encouraging our employees like the way Sreyoshi’s mom did is setting the atmosphere for play. 
    1. Show your employees that you too are willing to “play” and find opportunities to do so in their presence. Share your playing experiences and your failures and normalize saying things like “I tried it, it didn’t work, so I tried again.” “I played with the software and found some features to be worthwhile, like…” “Wow, good thing I explored this otherwise I would have never known…”
  1. Be brave through play to thrive and sustain
    you may face different circumstances in the workplace in which you need to execute before you have the time to “learn” it all the way. This scenario is reality now more than ever as new technologies keep coming to the market and organizations have to adapt to thrive and sustain. Perhaps your company used one type of video conferencing tool and then decided to shift to another to be more cost-effective. Do you wait for a comprehensive training program to roll out to conduct your daily/recurring meetings on the new platform?  No! This is when you pull out the play card! You jump right into the sandbox and figure out what you need to do to make the meetings happen.

Harnessing play helps us discover new ways of doing things or even thinking about them differently.

What do you do when you’re challenged with a new way of doing things?

We encourage you to resist the urge to “filter” yourself and allow yourself to play!

Happy Playing!

Dr. Sreyoshi Bhaduri leads Global People Research & Analytics at McGraw Hill, where she works on research leveraging employee data from across 45 countries to generate data-driven insights for policy decisions impacting organizational effectiveness, culture, and talent. She has an interdisciplinary expertise with a Ph.D. in Engineering Education and Master’s degrees (M.A. and M.S.) in Statistics and Mechanical Engineering, from Virginia Tech. Dr. Bhaduri is actively involved with the Society of Women Engineers. Dr. Bhaduri has been recognized as an Academy for Teaching Excellence fellow and a Diversity scholar at Virginia Tech, and was inducted in the National Bouchet Honor Society at Yale.


Dr. Rosh Rupani is Director of Leadership and Organizational Development at McGraw Hill – she manages global learning & development initiatives to help employees and managers stretch and also partners with colleagues to identify and solve organizational gaps. She’s passionate about strategizing and at the same time likes to roll up her sleeves to get things done. Dr. Rosh loves #MakingMagicHappen which translates to being extremely resourceful and having a no excuses mindset when it comes to execution. She immensely enjoys coaching leaders to help them explore and attain their “next best self.” Dr. Rosh is also a mother and continues to learn everyday from her 3-year old daughter who teaches her about optimism, resilience, and playful learning!


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