Friday, March 20, 2009

Patricia von Papstein - Are You Ready to Play the Integral Way? The Next Evolution of Leadership

Patricia von Papstein's "Are You Ready to Play the Integral Way? The Next Evolution of Leadership" appears in the new issue of The Integral Leadership Review. It's a very cool article about using playfulness as the foundation for creative problem solving in leadership.

Are You Ready to Play the Integral Way?
The Next Evolution of Leadership

Patricia von Papstein

For Victoria and Julian


patricia von papstein

As conscious leaders, we feel responsible for the life quality on this planet. We invent and design products and services that are sustainable and provide deep support, i.e., they are tools for life assistance. We initiate social responsibility projects. We fund creative industries. We invest in water protection, healthcare prevention and e-learning. We support projects for understanding and forgiveness between sexes, generations, political and cultural belief systems. From our individual perspective, we want to create satisfaction and peace of mind for everybody.

But we seldom utilize our playfulness when there is need to create next level solutions. This is astonishing, because playfulness is the most powerful driver for all species, including mankind, to innovate. The attentive attitude, a state with no obvious or hidden agenda in thought and action, is the most impressing expressions living creatures can produce. We can’t even imagine that this is the attitude we need to shape a future worth living for. Perhaps we dream to be enlightened managers (Aburdene, 2005), but we have not cultivated our senses for humor, sensuality and magic in our business routines. Most of the time, we feel ashamed to do things playfully. This is where integral playfulness can offer relief and create a new freedom for thought and action.

Why We Reach Out for Integral Playfulness

Playfulness is the most innovative human expression for creating a high quality of life. In history there has been no lasting improvement of economic wealth and cultural prosperity out of pain and loss. War and environmental catastrophes brought out ways of survival. Times of peace and understanding made us presents like technological breakthroughs and cultural exchange. Play is the catalyst to create progress and is the mother of culture (Huizinga 1971) Through play creations that appeal like a holy ritual, e.g., Olympic games, carnival) societies cultivated their relationships and encounters.

Today, we realize our interdependencies around the globe. We face “chronic” challenges (Martin, 2006). Explosion of population, lack of energy, pollution of food, poverty and crime are not regional issues any longer. In this situation, playfulness can help to transform us. It is a powerful vision to proceed to become integrative players (Gordon and Esbjörn-Hargens, 2007), who initiate our next social metamorphosis: noble playfulness at any time for anybody.

If our minds stay “greed or sacrifice” fixated and if we see only scarcity and betrayal around us, we will produce closed-minded solutions, too rigid to create liberation from rude forms of cooperation. We have to refrain from a thought pattern that traps us in games in an either live or die modus. Human playfulness is suppressed, if we only play head games. Integral playfulness is thinking and acting. Integral playfulness focuses our attention on unexpected opportunities. We need integral playfulness to unblock our behavior when faced with anxiety and insecurity. The current global financial catastrophe shows how cheaters, who don’t dare to play with our lives and possessions have paralyzed our decision possibilities. It is not enough to throw cheaters out of the game, again and again. We badly need to ennoble play rules to enter a global level of creative wealth.

table 1

Table 1: Our View of the World Creates the Rules of Our Games

Our view of the world results in play rules for life. Basic play rules are our benchmarks for success and integrity. With them we frame and judge our actions. But, even if I have left behind a view of the world as a battlefield, this does not automatically mean that I play games with the expertise and smartness of an ironist or a magician (Cook-Greuter, 2000). A new dimension of courage is needed to initiate green and yellow play settings (See Table 1), according to Spiral Dynamics levels of development represented by colors (Beck and Cowan, 1996). Being able to play the integral way is a matter of initiating level yellow playful missions and of being very smart in convincing people whose playfulness ranges in blue and orange to change to green and yellow play rules that add value. If our play partners are not willing to share yellow play joys, we leaders have not installed integral playfulness quality.

Today a new league of business people has entered the stage. You find them engaged in open source cooperation, e.g., or The protagonists of these networks agree upon the play rule of “sharing nicely”. They create new rules for intellectual property and joint ownership within creative industries.

new attitudes

Thirty years ago the formula for win-win strategy was very en vogue among managers. The Harvard negotiation project tried to obey the same play rule: share nicely. Researchers worked on a new approach to conflict resolution. They believed that a conflict of interests could be resolved if each party to the conflict could receive some kind of reward for cooperating. The Harvard project became cult in management literature, but never entered the top management decision-making culture (Arrow et al, 1995).

The old and young pioneers of cooperation have done a great job—but we can go further. A new dimension of playfulness is what we need! Cooperation fails if we play on playgrounds where mental and real play territories provide few options to change our perspective. If there are only a few switches of perspective and experience possible, we know the level of playfulness is low. The best playgrounds are there where science, economy and culture meet. Refraining from insider games and inventing manifold cross interest group games is the kind of playfulness that we need to invent.

recognize play

The established leaders I am working with tell me that they reject being called players. Some reject the expression player, because they think that they already left the dirty playgrounds of dominance and humiliation. They believe that they don’t fall back into cheating and blaming games. “Player” for them has a connotation of being ridiculous and risk driven. Some reject the expression, because they think that playfulness is an attitude about life that is inappropriate after passing the age of 20. For them, a player has no chance to survive competitive business games. They look upon players as unproductive dreamers.

The young generation of decision-makers I am working with have a more laid back attitude towards playing—they see products as toys. The world of mobile phones and laptops is a world created by managers who have become toymakers. For them, gaming is a matter of survival. If there is no entertainment value, products will not survive in the market.

Whenever playfulness comes up in a discussion among leaders, they have no vision of what conscious, enlightened, sustainable gaming could look like. The typical approach to this phenomenon is “first we have to solve problems, then we can take care of cultural issues”. Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory suggests that we have to proceed along many lines of our development. I agree. From a playful point of view, it is a waste of capacities and a strangulation of human expression, if we develop our cognitive and moral abilities and show no excellence in an aesthetic or psychosexual line of development (Huizinga, 1955). Integral playfulness has the goal to activate as many lines of development as possible at the same time. Playful minds are prototypes of “all in one spirited” leaders. The leaders of the 21st century are individuals who love to develop in an uncommon way. They put emphasis on unleashing their psychosexual, aesthetic and transpersonal potential. In order to make a contribution to inventing and shaping a good future, a person with leadership talents needs to develop a playful mind.

The leadership literature is filled with descriptions of the ideal leading approaches, as a coach, as a mentor, as an individual with endless caring capabilities, acting like a healer. But, our leading routines tell another story. We know how it hurts to make strong decisions and see the gap between reality and vision every day. Very often we feel like tragic heroes. Our tragedy is that we make other people and ourselves believe that (business) games can be controlled and regulated. This is the state of an ordered or a status-oriented player. (Gordon and Esbjörn–Hargens, 2007)

Listen to this song!

song 1 cold play viva la vida

A leader as a playful mind reaches out for the next evolution of leadership. The next evolution of leadership is beyond practices of work life balance. It is beyond training camps for intuition and creativity. It is beyond sustainable global strategies. The secret lies in three new ways of acting:

  • Ready to act with no agenda!
  • Ready to handle creative destruction!
  • Ready to see life as a universal play space!

Listen to this song!

song 2 robby williams feel

A playful mind is a smart leader, a person with a sense for vulnerability. That is one big reward for becoming a playful mind: you can show weaknesses and doubt without losing your authority.

The social community founders (,, and the inventors of modern fabrics like www.skysails,info, and nanotech clothing like give us a taste of a new leader attitude. They show to the public what they love to do and involve people in sharing their visions, their acts of responsibility, playfully. These eco-entrepreneurs give us hope. I love to invite them to take a further step to enter the joys of integral playfulness.

Integral play is a catalyst to encourage leaders to invent a modern charisma that is not based on making people feel frightened or seduced, but supporting them to feel ready to play. Utilizing the impact of integral playfulness, a leader can cultivate a visible expression of leadership talent that is urgently needed to push society from a conventional way of living to a post conventional state: hospitality.

Hospitality—inviting the stranger to your house—is a highly developed expression of generosity and well known in every culture and country of the world. Societies with no fear of strangers or the foreign prosper in comparison to societies where the foreign is excluded, controlled or neglected. The ability to act like a host shows that a leader has an awareness of playful action. Look around at how few invitations are issued among business people to cooperate beyond ego and you see how playfulness is imprisoned in games of dominance and submission. Begin to invite your business partners, customers, employees, and citizens to meet you on neutral playgrounds. Obey the basic rule, “I am here to add lasting value”. Free yourself from cheating and blaming and you will experience the impacts of integral playfulness: people develop creative wealth.

Integral playfulness triggers three important motivations for individuals and groups to proceed: the longing to

  • Improve in all lines of development
  • Unleash modern expressions of hospitality
  • Combine goal directedness with transpersonal rewards.

Listen to this song!

song 3 India Arie

So where to start? Most of our business procedures are a mess in terms of playfulness. The rituals we share at conferences and meetings seem still to be acts of power demonstration and submission or celebrations of camaraderie, totally denying a difference in heritage and life habits of our play partners. I am sad if I look at all the beautiful progressive initiatives like or People share mind boosting ideas and manifests, but the celebration culture is still the one of mass events—speeches in front of large audiences. The new culture of playfulness has not yet created new symbols and celebration techniques.

We are arrogant if we think that we need no cultivation of our human playfulness. Integral playfulness guides us to enable our holistic view of the world. There are first glimmers of hope, which show that we can link our readiness to play with our longing to transform to higher levels of consciousness and our longing to create beauty and meaning at the same time in our lives. Playing the integral way means to follow through: the dreamer’s attitude (thinking with no boundaries and no pressure) matures to the attitude of a visionary with excellence in reflecting about our human delusions of grandeur with a twinkle in our eyes. The realist’s attitude (actions must create sensible results) can mature to the attitude of an artist with excellence in combining craftsmanship with reliability.

Read the rest of this fascinating article to get to the meat of her ideas.

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