a good intersection between work and play


Play is dynamic, work is static. That’s how I view it.

When we play, we move in surprising ways. Imagine a playground with a dozen eight-year-olds. What’s going to happen in half an hour? Can you tell? How about in ten minutes?

When we play, we let our mind wander. We ease some constraints.

Finding a good balance between work and play is important. I see it as a design challenge. I touched on this in 2018 as Static-dynamic interaction, and frankly, I can’t get the topic out of my head. It’s stuck. When I least expect it, it jumps back at me with a “pikaboo”.

Play alone is not enough. Just work will suck all air out of an initiative. We need both work and play, and we need a balance.

I’ve been enjoying Metamuse (podcast) lately. Today I was listening to Episode 27: Playful software with Rasmus Andersson. I had to stop listening when I heard this (edited for brevity):


What boundaries do we need to define? Let’s say we have a couple of smart, interesting, playful people. The company people recognize that, and say:

“Hey Lisa and Robin, would you be interested in sitting in this corner just coming up with crazy shit? Maybe we’ll ship it.”

I think in most cases, that’s a failure.

Maybe the constraints are way too vague. Similar to an art class. Ask someone to paint anything they want, and you get paralysis.

Much can go wrong when the interaction between work and play is accidental. Here are some examples:

situation example failure
a group of people are only playing their play never helps us ship anything
one person is playing, another is working horrible experience for the worker. “I’m not your Nanny, I’ve got shit to do”
a group of people are only working no creativity at work.

I’ve worked on Unicad in its current shape for about two years. We’ve seen lots of traction and I greatly enjoy working with my co-founder, so my go-to answer to “how’s it going?” is “I couldn’t be more happy”. But lately, something has been bugging me.

We have three major work streams right now:

stream what
usability is the product ergonomic in daily use?
sales are more people interested in the current value proposition?
value are we able to handle more valuable workflows?

For the last six months, we’ve been solely focused on usability. I’ve taken a something of a technical product manager domain expert sales person role. Because my co-founder is strong technically.

But where’s the play? I like coding because it’s playful. Call it a hunch. Lack of play limits creativity.

At least I’ve been reasonable.

I’ve taken care of usability and sales. Mostly practicalities. But the high risk high reward value work? That’s been on hold.

So, where’s the actionable insight? Are you just rambling, Teodor …

This is where “work” asks us to be specific. Perhaps because Utility is Contextual? Perhaps work is to provide utility in a context.


Parting words:

Does that make sense?

Have a good one,


Appendix A: a table of work and play. (2022-09-21)

Not play Play
Not work Meaningless paper pushing & toil We had fun last week but it doesn’t help us now
Work I’m a cog in a system A sense of meaning and purpose, with deliverables.

Appendix B: Proposed definitions for work and play

play is unpredictable. When we play, we can’t predict where we will end up in advance. That’s where the excitement comes from :)

when we work, there is a deliverable. Effective people know how to anchor their efforts so their effort add value in a context. And they keep that context in mind during the work, not as an afterthought. See Utility is Contextual and There’s always a deliverable.

I also think it’s possible to orient a product team around both work and play. Early draft for a work process: OGGPOW: A non-coercive strategic framework.

Appendix C: programming as play

Oddmund kindly suggested I look into Programming as play.

The author, Austin Z. Henley refers further to an academic paper: Expressions on the Nature and Significance of Programming and Play