When we think of rewards in relation to work, we often think first and foremost of money. But for most employees the rewards of any given job are more likely calculated with a complex algorithm that takes into account a range of factors, such as flexibility, team relations, environment, and so forth. One crucial factor that’s often overlooked – perhaps because we view it as anathema to work – is the importance of play.
Behance recently met with Ji Lee, the Creative Director of Google Creative Labs and a man with a particular knack for fusing work and play. Prior to joining Google, Lee worked at Droga5 and Saatchi & Saatchi, where he implemented innovative marketing campaigns that drew on his experiences from more playful independent projects.
For instance, one of Lee’s solo endeavors was the Bubble Project, a guerilla graffiti project where he printed out “thought bubble” stickers and slapped them onto advertisements throughout the city. The bubbles, of course, prompted people to write their remarks on the adverts, and the project inspired imitators. Soon, it was getting covered by bloggers, and the phenomenon spread to other cities around the globe as other adbusters took Lee’s lead.
Later, Lee was able to utilize the knowledge he had gained from his playful personal work for a “legitimate” ad campaign for the opening of the New Museum in New York. Using a graffiti-inspired approach, Lee had hot pink paint poured down the ever-present Calvin Klein billboard in Soho, increasing the ominous drip over the course of a few days (and garnering ample blogger buzz) until the “reveal,” when the paint outlined the shape of the new building and announced the museum’s reopening.
For Lee, work and play feed each other, and “having this balance of the two worlds is essential for the success of both sides.” Each has its shortcomings, and each has its strengths. While play allows for maximum freedom and experimentation, Lee notes that, “it’s very easy to fail because you don’t have the structure of a group.” While if it’s all work and no play, “you may become jaded and conditioned to thinking just one way.”
As a manager at Google and a teacher at the School of Visual Arts, Lee tries to bring this philosophy into the workspace and the classroom. Lee, like the rest of us, is bombarded with a flood of information on a daily basis, but rather than get overwhelmed, he uses it as raw material for inspiring his team.
Daily, he culls the best links and tidbits received from family, friends, students, and coworkers, and sends them out to his team. Although it may seem a small gesture, this neat little email provides a welcome break for his employees as well as valuable stimulation. It also instills the notion of play and exploration as an essential part of the workplace and the creative process.
***The Behance team researches productivity and leadership in the creative world. These entries are adapted and edited by Jocelyn K. Glei from the Behance team's past articles and research. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develops knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.