Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Apple Can Keep A Secret, So Should You, And What It Has To Do With Kick The Can.

vintage Coke cans from Dieline
Apple is being splashed across a lot of newspages lately for being so secretive and is even being accused of telling lies to its own workers to stop idea leakage from the company. At first read I found myself saying "Apple, get over yourself". I love Apple but come on, really? What is this, a 5th grade game of Kick the Can?
But then I started thinking about how much fun Kick the Can was. How there were super secret covert plans and some people knew about them and whoever didn't was always trying to find out what they were. And the ones with all the plans got a lot of attention. In fact, the ones with the super secret plans were in the power seat the whole game. This is even fun for adults - just look at how adults play paintball or laser tag. Plans are made and secrets are kept or not kept in much the same way that it happens with grade schoolers.
Now, games/play in the workplace is making a comeback. Executives are paying big bucks to play with Legos and have brainstorming sessions. Why? Because a stressed out mind won't work as well and doing the same thing every single day makes us have less new ideas (something that simply cannot happen at a place like Apple). Legos is even building a Serious Play process for workplaces that promises better communication skills and better ideas.
Also, take a look at teams that have a high level of secret plans that also have extreme loyalty and strong bonds. The Military and their secret operations, football teams and their highly guarded playbooks, even Nintendo games and their secret ways to demolish enemies. These groups have formed around their secrets and created a sense of belonging to those "in the know" and an urgency to find out for those who are not.
I don't know if Apple is doing the whole secrecy thing as a really cool version of Kick The Can or if it's extreme team building or just plain paranoia but their history with understanding the psyches of their employees suggests that it's probably deliberate.
Here's some tips on incorporating play into the workplace:
1) Have employees design a new product for your company or take a day to have everyone design a company kite that represents themselves. Kites must fly.
2) Create "Project ______" . This is a secret project that some or all of your employees can work on. This project should be somewhat work related but can be a project that the company always wanted to do and never got a chance. For example, launching an ancillary product or new department.
3) Get a Wii, or a Ping Pong table (a la Threadless). Plan tournament accordingly.
4) Visit a grade school and hold a workshop for kids about your industry. This is also a great way for your team to observe how kids interact and come up with new ideas.
5) take a field trip to a laser tag center.


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