SkySquid Teaches Us the Value of Playing at Work
August 21, 2017
The Stable Kernel team takes their work very seriously. In fact, our very name nods to the importance of building mobile applications on precise, stable foundations because, without them, our software and our clients’ futures are at risk. This is the complex and time-consuming work that we love, and we pride ourselves on fostering an environment where this work can be done. In fact, if you wander into our office during one of our designated daily chunks of focus times, you might think you’ve entered a library as all you’ll hear our fingers tapping away on keyboards.
But as you stand absorbing the silence of hard and important work being done, your eyes might fall on the gilt-framed dart board in the common space… or on the collection of well-used nerf guns… or on a half-played game of scrabble. What’s going on, here?
Play. Play is going on here.
Cognitive Development researchers have long lauded the importance of play in the development of children’s brains, citing its role in language, physical, cognitive and social development. More recently, researchers like Dr. Stuart Brown of The National Institute for Play have examined the ongoing importance of play for adult development. In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, Dr. Brown reveals that play is essential to adults in their adoption of social skills, creativity, problem-solving, adaptability, resilience, and more. And that is why play is so important to the work we do at stable|kernel.
SkySquid Wants You to Play
When you enter our office, you’re greeted by a crazy colorful BlackCatTips painting, featuring our spirit animal/mascot the SkySquid, who represents many of the traits we value most in our employees. SkySquid is always hungry for new challenges and has started dreaming about becoming three-dimensional and literally taking to the sky. Through play, we’re setting out to make his dream come true. In the process, we’re learning how accurate Dr. Brown and others are in asserting the importance of play at work.
Play Engages You
Last week, four of us stood gathered around our office library table during lunch. In front of us lay the recently-constructed “skeleton” of what will be a 10-foot long SkySquid lantern. The task before us: turn this hand-built bamboo and masking tape frame into a glorious, illuminated, animated lantern so we can introduce SkySquid to our community at the September 9th Art on the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade.
As we began experimenting with lights, thicknesses of tissue paper, bubble wrap and more, time got away from us. We were so happily engaged in exchanging ideas, brainstorming concepts, and delighting in the blue glow emanating from the belly of the squid that the hour flew by. And the happiness and engagement we felt extended beyond the room we were in – our coworkers couldn’t resist popping their heads in to ask questions, contribute ideas and leave with smiles.
Play Encourages Collaboration
Our core SkySquid Lantern Team is made up of people who don’t often get the chance to work closely together as we’re all in different departments at Stable Kernel, and our time together is helping us become better collaborators. Surely, this will serve us well not only for this project but for future work within the company. We’ve brought our unique skill sets together and by sharing our expertise with each other, we’re each learning a great deal and are coming up with an epic SkySquid!
I had the pleasure of collaboratively building SkySquid’s frame with the incomparable Chantelle Rytter (a.k.a. Queen of the lantern parade and leader of the Krewe of Grateful Gluttons) and have been sharing what I’ve learned from her about lantern structure, materials, and support with our team so we can make solid choices as we continue construction. Chantelle is also a huge proponent of the way “civic play connects people to place,” so working with her has been like finding a kindred spirit.
Matt brings his design savvy to our team and has been awesome at envisioning the final product and in helping us work together to accomplish our vision.
Bryan’s engineering expertise means SkySquid won’t just be illuminated by run-of-the-mill string lights but by a custom Arduino light system that will respond to commands he programs for just the right effect.
Alex’s marketing prowess is ensuring that we’re documenting and sharing SkySquid’s story with our community in a meaningful way that can help our business.
And we all have ideas. So. Many. Ideas! By collaborating with each other, SkySquid will be far grander than he would have been if any of us had created him alone.
Play Reinforces Problem Solving, Resilience and Adaptability
It turns out there isn’t a book about how to build a 10-foot long illuminated, parade-worthy SkySquid (and I don’t understand why not – giant SkySquid lanterns are awesome, but I digress). This means we are in a constant cycle of innovation as we build the first one. We are practicing problem-solving, resilience and adaptability as we figure out things like:
- How will we support the lights?
- How close should they be to the outside of the lantern?
- What will we do if we need to access the Arduino system for repairs?
- How will we support SkySquid in the parade?
- How will we invite others in the company to contribute to SkySquid and the parade?
- Bubbles? BUBBLES!
- How the heck will we get SkySquid home at the end of the parade route?
- And so much more…
While play, according to Dr. Brown’s definition, is apparently purposeless, we’ve learned at Stable Kernel how very purposeful it can be in promoting the values and dispositions that make our work strong. We hope you’ll come to the BeltLine and play with us and our community on September 9th!
We’d love to hear where your company loves to play! Here are some of our favorite venues: