“We have no empirical evidence that being more serious leads to greater insight into the human condition than being playful. There is, however, growing empirical evidence that being playful opens toward the ever-elusive, supple heart.”
John Paul Lederach

There is only one thing I miss…that I truly miss…from going to work every day at an organization, from being an employee, on a team, responsible to deliver what’s been promised.

That thing? The fun of it. The playfulness, the messing around, the good humor, the connection and camaraderie. Enjoying myself at work – playing at work – is something I never got tired of and that I miss very much.

As a “sole practitioner” I have to work very hard to create the kind of playfulness that, inside the walls of the company – in the right conditions, of course – happens organically. I have regular and irregular phone calls and email/text exchanges with friends and colleagues that help me keep perspective, have a laugh and enjoy the experience of my day-to-day work. And that’s essential because I can take my work much too seriously on far too many days.

I am reminded today that the intensity of my furrowed brow suits my work only insofar as it moves me toward lightness and freedom. I realize that I can measure this by checking whether I am inching myself closer to the playground than to the principal’s office.

That the seriousness of my endeavor can be for the purpose of creating more playfulness – rather than just more work “product” – seemed an irreconcilable difference to me for far too long. That my work is and always needs to be playful, given all of the best effort I can muster, is what makes it worth doing. And what makes those on the receiving end much more appreciative of what I offer.

I love my work. Some days I love it so much that I squeeze the life right out of it. Some days, better days, I hold it lightly…so lightly that it just starts to float away. And I can sit back and smile as I watch it go.

This is for my friend, Alia.


Why is there no trash on the ground at Disneyland?

A number of years ago I participated in a customer service training at a Disneyland resort. The event included a behind the scenes tour of the facility, a chance to go where “regular” park goers don’t go and to learn a few secrets about the Magic Kingdom.

One anecdote came up in the form of a question: Why is there no trash on the ground at Disneyland?

The answer? Because there’s no trash on the ground at Disneyland, of course! The “Broken Windows” theory of community renewal applied to the theme park business.

The Disney team proudly proclaimed that they have fewer sanitation workers than other amusement parks because they have established a culture of no trash on the ground.

Sunday, at Disneyland’s California Adventure I just happened to notice a dirty napkin on the ground a few feet in front of me. My first thought, indoctrinated as I had been, was to reach down and get it but at that very moment a “cast member” was headed my way and I decided to see if he had been trained as well as I had.

He had not been, and he sailed right on by.

In that moment I remembered how hard the work of culture building is. I remembered how challenging it is to establish and maintain consistency in both mindset and behavior in a small company never mind an organization the size and scope of Disney.

It’s essential to have high aspirations and to fall short sometimes. How else do we learn?

I hope today was an anomaly for that employee and that the Disney service culture is as vigilant now as when I learned from them years ago.

Next time, I’m going to grab the napkin and give him the benefit of the doubt. Every aspirational culture deserves a little help.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Human. Resources.


Merriam-Webster definition #3-b:  representative of or susceptible to the sympathies and frailties of human nature (human kindness; human weakness).


Merriam-Webster definition #1-c a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life; and #1-e a source of information or expertise.

“Human Resources”

Merriam-Webster definition #1: personnel.

What? Personnel?

How did we get from words like “sympathies” and “frailties” (read tenderness, vulnerability, transparency…as in the real human experience) and “phenomenon,” “quality of life” and “sources of information and expertise” to personnel, a scraped from the bottom of the barrel word that fails in every way to describe who we are and what we’re made of?

It is, regrettably, an accurate characterization of the state of the “modern,” and so often dehumanizing, organization.

Let’s do better than that. Here’s a new definition for your consideration:

Human Resources (plural noun): (1) those living, breathing, dynamic and creative persons who cherish nothing more than to come together in support of a cause worth fighting for; (2) Any number of individual persons who collaborate with dignity, respect, safety and in a spirit of service to breathe life into an enterprise that is worthy of their presence. 

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.