Sunday, June 9, 2013


It should not come as a surprise that I am on LinkedIn.  Blogging, even as erratically as I do, positions me amid social media, and I at least haltingly entertain the idea that I am a professional.  Accessing what purports to be a professional social networking tool, then, suggests itself as a natural and appropriate step for me to take.

One of the website's offerings of which I routinely avail myself is the Influencer, a series of short blog posts hosted on the website and containing comments from business and industry leaders.  While I am not at all convinced that the commercial is the best standard of measurement, I concede (and not even unhappily) that the comments are frequently worth looking over and their ideas considered sincerely.

One such post is Tim Brown's "The Secret of Great Work: Play," which was posted to the LinkedIn Influencer on 4 June 2013.  In the piece, Brown asserts that the best workers are those who are offered time to engage in unstructured creative activities--in brief, to play a bit at work.  The piece is admittedly scanty on implementation details, particularly regarding the implementation of the design challenge used as a case study in the piece, which limits its effectiveness, but the simple fact of stating outright that play is necessary to good work is compelling.

That Brown is overt in saying so, and that the comments appended to the article* reconfirm the attitude, strikes me as odd.  One of the arguments often leveled against educators is that they have "so much time off."  The usual rebuttal--usual for the very good reason that it is true--is that the time off is not really off.  Continuing education expectations take up much of the "time off" for those who teach at the primary and secondary school levels.  At the collegiate level, grading is what eats evenings and weekends while classes are in session, and research occupies much of that time as well as the "idle" summers.

That research often itself draws ire from commentators who argue that the real work of higher education is teaching (and teaching a curriculum suited primarily to getting students jobs that pay well, despite the fact that many of those who make such comments will prefer to pay less, thereby shrinking the field of available high-paying jobs).  Those who make such arguments are not entirely wrong; those who claim the professorial dignity are identifying themselves as scholars, and it is part of the scholar's duty to disseminate knowledge.  But it is equally important to develop new knowledge to disseminate--hence the research.  And, as I have discussed before (following Edmundson), many of those who enter research do so from love of the subject material.  That is to say, the research begins with play.

Brown, and those who state their agreement with him, valorize the very thing that is so often decried by the very same people who are held up in the Influencer as being worth emulation.  People are never wholly internally consistent--or if they are, it is according to a strange fractal pattern that produces nothing resembling a straight line--so that I am not surprised to see the contradiction.  But I am also not displeased to see it.

*I am aware of how dangerous it is to even look at the comments section of an online piece.  Even in professional settings, much happens in comments sections that ought never to be released upon the world.

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