THE BLOG
02/18/2016 11:24 am ET Updated Feb 18, 2017

Free Play vs. Competition

For decades, many corporations have used metaphors with sports to encourage hard work, dedication, and a persevering mindset. While competitive sports offer plenty of lessons and a better awareness of our habits, it also prevents us from the many benefits of free play.

There is a distinct difference between free play and competition. While both have their place and benefits, understanding the nuances between the two can make a big difference in how you approach and engage them. More importantly, it will probably give you a new appreciation for free play and how it can help.

Work Harder with Goals in Mind

One of the biggest features of competitive sports is having a goal-oriented approach. Either there is a goal, an objective, and the purpose is to "win" whatever that looks like. This engages certain beneficial features, such as tenacity and perseverance. It can also help create a sense of purpose in one's life that can translate to other things, such as business.

This goal oriented approach makes sense for businesses because they are able to focus on a specific goal (making more money) and utilize their workforce to help them achieve that goal. While it is not a bad thing, it can lead to some drastic consequences.

The current American work culture is riddled with negative side effects. People who use the competitive mindset and immediately thrust themselves into working hard often end up with burnout and some psychological trauma from their efforts. The American Psychological Association found the current generation to be the most stressed in record with most of the stress coming from finances.

Even people who don't do drugs or drink alcohol can be literally addicted to work because of the praise that they receive and good feelings they get while pushing themselves to the limit. Like any other addiction, this is not beneficial for the long term.

Why Free Play is the New Way

For most people, it's been months (or even years) since last engaging in free play. The type of free play that helps in business and professional lives is similar to what we would have done as children. Using our imagination, having no objective, and pursuing whatever comes to mind is completely different from the style of play that includes objectives.

One benefit of free play is the creative and innovative results that come from games with no objective. Many business leaders, such as Elon Musk, take this approach to their business and find amazing things. In creating the latest SpaceX rockets, Musk was told countless times he'd never be able to develop something privately for as cheap as he wanted. After playing with the puzzle pieces of different costs, he finally found his way.

When we are in a state of free play, we are able to be more innovative, which is actually the difference between the western world and much of the developing competition. Anyone can put their nose to the grindstrone and do arithmetic, but it takes real innovation to make a world-changing concept and turn it into reality.

Any business owner or successful professional will agree that both competitive spirit and innovation are important, but our modern path for life often follows a very regimented and competition oriented nature. Just go outside to play without an objective and see what comes up for you!