Tight Boundaries: Richard Simmons and Playing with the Freedom of Limits

I started my team building career working with kids – from Kindergarten to 12th Grade. The success I had there was due in no small part to two words: tight boundaries. The smaller the playing field, the more fun we had together. And also, the smaller the playing field the more the kids complained before playing that it was too small. Despite their complaints they had lots of fun. Why? These tight boundaries gave the kids complete freedom within there to be creative and to interact. If the boundaries were too big, kids ended up alone in empty spaces, games slowed down and dragged on. Tight boundaries equaled peak fun.

The other week on a return flight on Southwest from Orlando to Manchester after a Charity Bike Build team building program, the inflight attendant riffed endlessly and humorously on the safety instructions and everything else he had to say on the microphone. It was classic Southwest – which in my experience means the way Southwest used to be a few years ago. All of us jaded travelers – I’m sure some of us on the plane had heard the same safety instructions three times already that day – paused, listened, were amused, and took notice. Somehow he got us to actually hear everything he had to say. He treated it like a performance – he ‘played’ his work.

The FAA mandated flight safety instructions (or whoever mandates them) is a pretty tight boundary. There are specific things you must say and in a specific order. This can be taken as an opportunity to check out and drone them in a rote fashion (clearly the preferred method by many airlines) or…it can be an opportunity to play. The gentleman on Southwest found the freedom in those limits, and played like a stand-up comedian. We appreciated it – along with the humor, it was a nice display of creativity.

Here’s one more example – with the same instructions. How badly do you want to hear those safety instructions right now? Two million people took time out from their busy day to do just that. Air New Zealand’s four minute safety video features Richard Simmons. It’s hugely popular, and fun in that Richard Simmons kind of way. Want to be person Two million and one to watch it? Here it is.

Three stories, three ways that people play in the limits given them. This is true freedom, not something we hope for some day. Freedom is here at our fingertips today, right here, right now. If you have tight boundaries in work, life, finances, anything, you’re lucky. You have the maximum opportunity for peak fun. How can you find freedom right here, right now? How can you play today in the tight boundaries that today gives you?

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