The Power of Play and Networking for Adults

Wednesday, September 9th

Sometimes my fellow Board members at the National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education get asked why we schedule networking and play into our annual leadership Summit/conference. Shouldn’t we use every precious minute to cram as much information and training into the schedule as possible? The answer is NO! We deliberately set aside time each year for networking and play because we believe they are critical to our success!

Carving out time to play is important, some would say essential, for the growth and development of children. But what about adults? With work to do, schedules to keep, and kids to raise, many adults are far too busy to play. Many of us consider play to be either A) a highly unproductive waste of time, B) something worthwhile if it is competitive, or C) something we only do on vacation. But play is just as critical for adults as it is for kids. “We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up,” according to Scott Eberle, Ph.D, Vice President for Play Studies at The Strong and editor of the American Journal of Play. Play brings joy and is vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, compares play to oxygen, saying play is “all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” This might seem surprising until you consider everything that Dr. Brown considers play: Art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting, and even daydreaming. Brown has spent decades studying the power of play in everyone from prisoners to businesspeople to artists to Nobel Prize winners. He’s reviewed over 6,000 “play histories,” case studies that explore the role of play in each person’s childhood and adulthood. Brown found that lack of play was just as important as other factors in predicting criminal behavior among murderers in Texas prisons. He also found that playing together helped couples rekindle their relationship and explore other forms of emotional intimacy. As Brown says “play is the purest expression of love.”

What is Play? “Defining play is difficult because it’s a moving target,” Eberle said. “[It’s] a process, not a thing.” Brown calls play a “state of being…purposeless, fun and pleasurable.” For the most part, the focus is on the actual experience, not on accomplishing a goal. Also, the activity is needless.

What about networking? Networking has long been recognized as a powerful tool. Knowing more people gives you greater access, facilitates more sharing of information, and makes it easier to influence others. Why? Because it is far easier to influence people you know than it is to influence strangers. One look at social media and you can see how Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have built their business models on the presumption that networking tools help people build their networks and remain better connected.

But as Terry Bacon, author of “The Elements of Power” and “The Elements of Influence,” says, “The research on power and influence shows that people who are well networked are three times more influential than people who aren’t. But their power is based on the social capital they have developed in building relationships with the people in their network—and you can’t build sufficient capital with people by merely “friending” them on Facebook or accepting an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Networking can be a powerful tool. It can enhance your ability to lead and influence other people—but only when the people in your network value being connected with you—and value you for more than just being one of the hundreds of people in their network. The power of networking lies in how well they know you, how much they trust you, how much they gain from having you in their network, how frequently you communicate with them, and how many other powerful people there are in your network. Social networks like LinkedIn are useful, but they are no substitute for direct personal connections and the kind of history you develop with people when they have known you for a long time, when they have learned to trust you, and when they have come to value the relationship.”

For those who are still unconvinced regarding the value of including networking and play at our annual NARME meeting, I offer one final, irrefutable example: I feel sorry for anyone who missed the unforgettable moment when Joneen “The Terminator” Mackenzie from the Center for Relationship Education in Colorado fought for the “Red” Team in an epic, knock down, drag out laser tag battle. When the chips were down and Joneen was completely surrounded by the “Blue” team at our “Main Event” in Atlanta, she was undaunted. Completely encircled by a ruthless enemy, Joneen taunted the Blue Team and dared them to try and take her down. She did not run, cower, or hide from her foes – instead she went on offense and attacked the bad guys with guns blazing! One would be hard pressed to find a more fitting example of what it feels like sometimes for all of us to keep “fighting the good fight” for relationship and marriage education in America. So who is ready to network and play at the NARME conference in Anaheim in 2016?

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