During the conditions we find ourselves in and with everyone needing to spend more time outside and socially distanced, it seemed like a good time to revisit and update spin on one of my favorite places as a young person: the playground.
Driving by a playground the other day reminded me of a time that seems like yesterday. In reality it was over four and a half decades ago. It was a time when the most important thing was playing outside on time-tested swings, monkey bars, see-saws and playground balance beams.
It was so much fun to run onto the playground and be the first to climb to the top of the geometric shaped monkey bars or grab a highly coveted seat on the limited number of swings. Everyone knew what swings were best and the seats that were the most comfortable.
My time as a playground kickball king is well documented in this column and in the folklore of the playgrounds I frequented as a child. Less known are my up and downs on the see-saws, swings and antics on the monkey bars.
Looking back, the one thing you had to maintain to pull off some of the most impressive “stunts” on the playground was and still is balance. The same holds true for business. And that got me thinking. Now more than even with new “normal” rules and protocols along with the need for flexibility and “pivoting” in business, the similarities between business and playground balance basics seem even more relevant. The comparison between balance required on the playground and balance required in business can be quite interesting.
Each piece of equipment that gave many of us joy as children, now seem to me to be symbols of business. Lessons learned and “practiced” on the playground can and do help us move forward in business.
So let’s head out for a little childhood exercise and rediscover playground rules, keeping the current environment and circumstances in mind.
• The balance beam: One of the first pieces of playground equipment we are usually introduced to as children. The great part is that parents or grandparents usually were there holding our hands to teach us how to balance. Taking steps with some support, we moved forward on a narrow beam while focusing on not falling off or failing and still looking ahead to be successful. At some point we needed to attempt it without assistance. That sounds a lot like the world of business to me.
• The slide: Another type of adventure on the playground. There was usually a small slide for those starting out and a little timid. Then there was the BIG slide for those who threw caution and any fear of heights to the wind. Some of us would even go down head first. I can still feel the hot metal burn my exposed skin as my clothes attempted to keep up with the speed of my slide. Sure it was risky, but then again it taught us about risk and ups and downs. Some people in business are still on the small slide while others are going big every time.
• The see-saw: The ultimate in compromise and trust. Like the balance beam, only there was much more at stake. I can remember the conversations and failed negotiations as I sat on the “high” or “up” side of the see-saw as the person on the other “down” side would threaten to get up resulting in my ultimate free fall. Just who was in control on that see-saw? How many times are we not in control of a situation in business? Balance, trust and compromise are all part of business.
• The swings: The swings are usually limited on most playgrounds, even today. To grab not just a seat but a comfortable seat and work hard to be able to “swing” higher and higher was a great feeling. It still is a great feeling, even today, especially as you work hard to climb to success in business.
• The monkey bars: The monkey bars were one of my favorite places to be on the playground. Start with the physical action of the climb, add in some creativity with the opportunity to meet a friend or two at the top and you have a playground paradise. The view from the top of the monkey bars was fantastic. And the same holds true for business. Take action, climb and work hard. Add in as much creativity as you need to get there. And most importantly make the time and take the time to meet up with people that care about you and your business. The view can be fantastic.
Most of us, given the opportunity would like to return to the playground. Funny thing is that we are still there every day in our own “business playgrounds” even in the new normal of business operations and guidelines. Keep your balance and remember some of the basic playground rules. See you at the top of the monkey bars, with the proper social distance in place of course!