Peter Gray’s book Free to Learn is probably the best primer out there on the need for unstructured play in the learning process for kids. I highly recommend it.
Humans are wired for emulation and experimentation. Games are the most natural way to learn, because they are adjustable to the perfect balance of challenge and accessibility needed to grow and improve.
Make something too hard or too competitive for a novice and they’ll get depressed and quit. Make it too easy and they’ll get bored and quit. Easy to enter, low-pressure games, especially where new players can watch existing players (who aren’t miles ahead of them in skill) and mimic them are the ideal starting point. But then the games need to escalate in difficulty and competitiveness.
One of the studies in Gray’s book showed novice billiard (or is it pool?) players did worse when being graded and observed than when just playing freely. But expert players did better. They loved the challenge.
Play is perfect because it can flex and ratchet up to accommodate all of these competing pressures. Play is NOT easy, stress free, or without pain an anguish. Watch kids trying to beat a hard level on a video game, or athletes trying to win back-to-back titles. Play isn’t easy, but it is fun.
There is lots of amazing literature on play and learning, but most of it gets associated with children. “Learning” gets (sadly) synonymized with “school”, and school implies kids. But every job is mostly about learning. And the more upside, the more this is true.
That’s why play at work is so important!
Work can be hard, frustrating, repetitive, and taxing (just like a challenging game). But it should also be fun and playful!
If you can tap into the power of infinite games, and craft some finite games within them, you will grow and excel in work just like kids do in education.