How play can make you more innovative and productive at work

By Vanessa Ho as written on news.microsoft.com
At first glance, the MIT programmers may have looked like just a bunch of gamers goofing off, as they fired spaceship torpedoes in a video game they built.
But more than 50 years later, their 1960s game “Spacewar” has become a milestone in the development of computers, with its then-radical idea of using a controller to manipulate an icon in a graphical interface.
“Shooting your opponent in space may have looked like a waste of time or just a playful activity, but it led to a powerful piece of software that changed the history of computing,” says Steven Johnson, author of several books on innovation that have landed on the New York Times best-sellers list.
Johnson’s latest book, “Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World,” continues his study of human creativity by exploring how having fun can lead to revolutionary ideas. Leading up to the book’s launch in November, Johnson is also hosting a 10-part podcast series in partnership with Microsoft.
The series, which began Monday, investigates the link between play and creativity and includes such guests as Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand and The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross. The first episode tells the story of computer pioneer Charles Babbage encountering a mechanical doll as a young child, a playful moment that sparked his brilliant career as an inventor.
“I started to reflect on how many important ideas in history initially came out of people playing around with things for the fun of it, or exploring new experiences for a sense of wonder and delight and amusement,” says Johnson. His books include “Everything Bad is Good for You,” “Where Good Ideas Come From” and “How We Got to Now,” which was also an Emmy-winning TV series that Johnson co-created and hosted.
“Wonderland” covers a range of subjects, from the spice trade and shopping to public spaces and games, with fascinating, detailed examples. In a chapter on musical instruments, Johnson highlights a ninth-century flute toy from Baghdad that played different songs through interchangeable cylinders, showing how it was both entertaining curio and pioneering invention.
“It was the first time anybody dreamed of the idea of a programmable machine. It’s really the first moment in history where the difference between hardware and software suddenly became imaginable,” he says. The idea of programmability later enriched computational devices in the 19th century and became a bedrock computing principle in the 20th century.
“It’s an example of an incredibly important idea that began in play, in song and music and amusement,” Johnson says. “Play is a very profound predictor of future developments.”
But for today’s organizations, integrating time for play can be a tradeoff between deadlines and deliverables. A recent survey by Johnson and Microsoft found that 70 percent of U.S. employees feel more energized and productive when they have time to “play” at work, yet only 31 percent say their organizations encourage this time during the work day.
Johnson says businesses can incorporate play by creating lively work environments, encouraging fun and recognizing the importance of hobbies outside of work. Some companies also set aside time for employees to share non-job interests, which might include music, art or volunteer work.
“It’s emotionally interesting and builds team camaraderie,” says Johnson. “It’s also often that an outside idea sparks a new thought. If you’re focused on a problem exclusively within the terms of that problem, it’s very hard to break out of that mindset.”

Play is a very profound predictor of future developments.

A workspace’s physical features also affect creativity, and many companies – startups and tech organizations in particular – have incorporated games and cool hangouts that foster a playful atmosphere.
“There’s a reason to have a pool table and a fun, coffee-shop-like environment, instead of a bunch of conference rooms and cubicles. They’re not just perks; they make people more creative and innovative,” Johnson says. They also spark what he calls “serendipitous connections.”
For Microsoft, the concept of play is embedded in the company’s culture, from the annual //oneweek Hackathon event — a celebration of employee innovation — to an ethos that encourages employees to “bring their ‘whole selves’ to work,” says Dona Sarkar, who leads the community for Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program.
A few weeks ago, funny discussions about togas and lightsabers helped her bond with her partner marketing team, whom she discovered has always embraced individual interests from silly to serious. Using the interests for goodwill and good ideas, the team’s friendly dynamic enables risk-taking and creativity, while personal passions have led to important projects.
One team member, Ursula Hildenbrand, mentioned her volunteer work with elderly people, prompting Windows Insider marketing lead, Jeremiah Marble, and the team to launch a program that teaches technology to senior citizens with help from high school students.

image: https://ncmedia.azureedge.net/ncmedia/2016/08/msft-togas-03-HR.jpg

The Windows Insider Community team has fun with togas and lightsabers. The team includes (from left) Joe Camp, Cheryl Sanders, Blair Glennon, Tyler Ahn, Dona Sarkar, Derek Haynes, Thomas Trembly, Manik Rane (kneeling), Ursula Hildenbrand, Joan Steelquist and Seth Rubinstein. (Photo by Dan DeLong).
“When we bring our whole selves to work, we’re able to solve problems for bigger groups of customers,” says Sarkar. “When you introduce humor and levity, it breaks up boundaries between people. It helps co-workers become friends. You can bring up all these creative ideas, and we can riff on them and make them even better.”
As a veteran engineer and manager, Sarkar has always encouraged her teams to leave the office and work together in a coffee shop, park or mall. She often bonds with co-workers while traveling for work and says a few hours with colleagues away from the normal grind can help people open up — and ultimately be more creative.
“When you remove yourself from the office, you stop being ‘Office Person’ and you start being the human being that you are,” Sarkar says.
The advice echoes Johnson’s and Microsoft’s research, which found that more than half of employees reported that their new ideas are triggered while hanging out with friends, doing something playful or even taking a shower — anywhere, it seemed, but at work.
“Sometimes, the best ideas come from stepping away from the problem you’re working on and entering that more playful state,” Johnson says. “And letting your mind explore a more experimental mode.”



Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Let's celebrate the Fifth of May with tacos, tequila, and Skype for Business!

Cinco de Mayo represents the day the Mexican Army, against all odds, defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla.  Now, people around the world take this day to appreciate Mexican and latin culture.  The best way to celebrate? Use Skype for Business tools to increase your efficiency and make more time for margaritas and mariachi bands. Check out these 5 awesome foundational tips for Skype for Business, as written on bettercloud.com, with quick tutorial videos.


  1. Schedule a Skype for Business Video or Audio Call Straight from Outlook

    Since becoming part of Office 365 in April, Skype for Business has integrated with Lync and made scheduling video and audio calls a cinch. Straight from your Outlook calendar, you are able to schedule Skype for Business calls both within your calendar and within an invite. For those of us who need a demonstration or reminder, the video below will show how to create a Skype for Business meeting using both Outlook 2013/2016 and the Outlook Web App.

  2. Share Only What You Need to Share with Others on Your Skype Meetings

    Now that you know how to schedule a Skype call, here’s how to launch the meeting and share your screen with other participants on the call. Screen sharing is a feature of corporate calls that many of us have come to expect and Skype for Business provides several different content sharing options. Shareable options include your whole desktop, a certain application, a PowerPoint presentation, or event an attachment. Check out the video below.

  3. Just Need to Chat Real Quick? Make a Skype for Business Direct Call Instead of a Video Call

    While you can make a video call, you can also just use audio (and let’s admit, we all have bad hair days and may not need to be on camera for every meeting). In Skype for Business, users can easily make phone calls from their computer and connect with colleagues. For those work from home days or weeks on the road, making a direct call in Skype for Business can be the ticket to get work done.

  4. Who’s in Your Skype for Business Address Book?

    Skype for Business contacts represent the people you know, do business with, and communicate with. If you’re just getting started with S4B or you need to expand your circles, you can add people to your contacts list, whether they’re in your organization or outside of it (with some limits, based on your administrator’s settings).

  5. An Instant Message in Skype for Business Can Do the Trick for a Quick Question

    And then there’s times when you just want to send a quick message. If you’ve got something to share that doesn’t warrant an email, send an instant message with Skype for Business. The basic steps to send an IM will be intuitive for most users: simply double-click on the name of the contact you want to send a message to, type your message, and press your Enter key to send.

Now that you've learned 5 useful tips in Skype for Business, it's time to celebrate! Bring out the sombreros, cook up some traditional Mexican dishes (or just grab some take-out from the local food truck), and take a shot at the Mexican Hat Dance. Cinco de Mayo is the perfect day to celebrate and appreciate Mexican culture, so enjoy this Fifth of May!


12 Fun Ways to Use OneNote Outside of the Office

In today’s post, we’re sharing a collection of fun ways to use OneNote outside of the office. The possibilities are endless, but these are our favorites.

Check out some of these awesome videos on how to use OneNote for more than just your business operations.

Making To Do Lists of All Kinds in OneNote

This is certainly a process that helps out in a business setting, but many of us create checklists for all sorts of things in life. Using OneNote to create to do lists can come in handy with things like preparing for your children’s school year, planning a move, and in many of the tips later in this post.

Going Shopping With a Plan on OneNote

Once you’ve mastered the art of OneNote tags, using the to do list function to create shopping lists will become second nature. Office 365 makes it easy to share lists with others, so having a list that all family members makes it easier to keep track of your needs (i.e. you don’t end up with three cartons of milk when you only needed one).

Clipping Content From the Web to OneNote

What do you do when you want to save content from the web? Maybe you have a system of bookmarks, or you use a social tool like Pinterest, or maybe you even copy and paste to a Word document. Instead, try out OneNote! It’s easy to take screenshots and even save an entire page using the OneNote Clipper extension.

Recording Audio Reminders in OneNote

While OneNote is obviously a natural choice for taking written or typed notes, you can also use it to capture and create audio and video recordings.

This function lends itself well to a work or school setting, but why not try using it in your personal life as well? You can record quick notes for yourself while you’re multitasking and come back to them later.

Bonus Fun OneNote Ideas:

  • Planning a wedding, with OneNote as the digital binder that collects all sorts of information
  • Tracking family information, like Wi-Fi network IDs and license plate numbers
  • Planning meals, using templates for lists, recipes, and notes
  • Collecting recipes, with Bing and the OneNote clipper
  • Traveling, with OneNote serving as your travel notebook that stores photos, notes, lists, and directions
  • Writing your collaborative screenplay or novel, with outlines and drafts in one spot
  • Researching genealogy and your family tree
  • Managing your personal finances or family budget, with embedded spreadsheets


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