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Thrive PT Article ("The Leader")

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December 31, 2012

'Thrive PT' event aims to spark connectivity
Leif Hansen of Spark Interaction is leading two upcoming sessions on imaginative problem solving and community collaboration. Photo by Allison Arthur
Leif Hansen of Spark Interaction is leading two upcoming sessions on imaginative problem solving and community collaboration. Photo by Allison Arthur
'Thrive PT' full

Although the first Thrive PT event is full, host Leif Hansen is planning a second event on Thursday, Feb. 16 and there are openings for that free workshop.

The purpose is community building and connecting people with one another to find out what opportunities there are for leaders – business leaders, teachers, nonprofit leaders and others – to collaborate creatively and adapt a more resilient mindset address these rapidly changing times.

Contact Hansen at or call Hansen at 206-428-7626.

Leif Hansen gets excited at the possibilities around him, even with a downturn in the economy that’s put for-rent signs in window after window in downtown Port Townsend.

Hansen is a 40-something specialist in the seemingly unrelated fields of applied improvisation and social marketing. All of his ventures ultimately spring from what he says is an obsession with “the wonder and weirdness of getting to exist.”

Describing himself as "group facilitator, personal coach, professional trainer, community-builder, creativity catalyst and bard" he's setting his sights on firing up the enthusiasm of others Thursday when he hosts a first Thrive PT event.

It’s partly aimed at getting the community to think more positively, partly aimed at connecting people with one another and mostly aimed at sparking interaction between leaders.

“PT needs to go through a re-branding if we want our businesses to survive,” said Hansen, a social-media marketing expert.

Spark Interaction is the name of Hansen’s own entrepreneurial venture, which he says is applied improvisation and getting people to see chaos and threat in a new light. He’s also been a leader in getting the PT CoLab started, creating a co-working space where different people with similar needs can come together, share resources and support each other as needed.

The Thrive PT event at the Cotton Building is free to teachers, business owners, community catalysts, nonprofit visionaries and entrepreneurs – anyone who sees himself or herself as a leader in the community and wants to see Port Townsend “Thrive: Improvise, adapt and overcome.”

Already, more than 55 people have signed up to be part of the first Thrive PT. That’s almost more than Hansen can handle at one time. He’s expecting a few people won't show, which is OK.

He’s so fired up himself that he’s already committed to a second one, Thursday, Feb. 16. There are openings for that free event.


Thrive; improvise

In order to thrive, Hansen says businesses need to improvise and adapt to rapidly changing times, be more collaborative and less competitive, more creative and less afraid.

“It can be easy to feel scared and confused about how fast things are changing,” he said. “I believe a more helpful approach is for us to get collaborative and creative.”

“If retired people want their businesses to be visited and eventually purchased, we need to attract new people and young energy and not lose quaint Victorian town but reemphasize the other qualities of PT such as our creativity, natural beauty and sustainability,” he said.

Although he doesn’t want to give away some of what he will be doing Thursday, he said he will employ improvisation techniques to help people get to know one another and think more collaboratively.

Hansen also has been a part of the emerging Young Professionals Network. He sees young people clearly wanting to band together and work together to build a thriving future. He emphasizes that the essential aspects of "youth" can transcend any age wanting to revitalize their core.

“It’s not so much that we need young people, but we need passion-led people, who often happens to be young people,” he said. “Really, anyone who wants to increase the level of engagement in their communities – whether professional or personal.”

And then there is the question of mission – for business leaders, community leaders, anyone.

“A lot of people are working for organizations or leaders who have forgotten what their core mission is,” he said. “They’ve gotten so wrapped up in their day-to-day work and their fears and meeting their bottom-line goals that they feel ‘blah’ about their work, even hate it, quite frankly, and they are missing out on the original passion that got them into the work in the first place. Without it, they will burn out and postpone joy.”


Fear at work

From where Hansen sits as a personal business coach, fear is what has gripped people and stopped the flow of creativity.

“Fear, in my mind, is the number one problem,” he said. “People tend to go into fight-or-flight mode. The irony is that a fearful reaction is the exact opposite of what needs to happen.”

While some people are focusing on competition as a way to survive, Hansen says finding innovative ways to collaborate can help businesses become revitalized and re-inspired.

He’s interested in helping businesses see what can be possible – whether it’s a band of bicyclists getting text messages and responding to deliver pizza to a hotel room or a business woman opening a space in her shop to educate people about imports she’s selling.

“The starting place is exploring how can you make your business stickier, offering more value to create a community.”

For example, he’s helping Maestrale Imports create an in-store "community" space to educate people about the imports Jennefer Wood buys. Perhaps she’ll also have a place for book groups to meet to talk about the places the products are made.


Social networking

While the event Thursday will be in-person, Hansen also is very much involved in social media and has a reputation for knowing its advantages as well as what he calls its dehumanizing limits. He was seen on NBC's "Today" show in 2008 and the PBS program "Mediashift" in 2009 teaching a class on how to align tech habits with personal values.

Still working out his own relationship to technology, he said he has set times for being online each day, helping him keep his priority of real-time interaction.

“While you can’t ignore this ‘revolution’ without serious consequences, you don’t need to handle it all on your own,” Hansen said.

“Social media is forcing companies to be more authentic,” he said. “It’s not a question of whether you are going to be involved in social marketing, it’s a question of ‘Why aren’t you?’”

Bad business practices can’t hide on the Internet and good business practices bring in more business.

What people these days are trusting is what Hansen calls unscripted and authentic engagements between people.

“If you don’t find ways to creatively engage with others, you'll miss great opportunities,” said Hansen.

And that’s part of what he aspires to teach in Thrive PT.


Seven+ Ways to Bring More Play to Work

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November 15, 2012


Seven (Plus) Ways to Bring Play to Work

Play Without Ceasing

Photo by Luke Rutan

1. Re-examine your assumptions and beliefs about work and play.

Talk with co-workers or schedule a staff meeting for discussion of how to make work more enjoyable, creative, and playful. Consider questions like these:

  • When you hear the word “play,” what comes to mind?
  • Is play the opposite of work?
  • If not, what is the opposite or work … or play?
  • Is it possible that more playfulness could lead to more productivity?
  • Does enjoying work more equate to not working as hard?

Choose to really bring transformation, or “playformation,” to your workplace.

2. Uncover your core passions and connect them to your organization's mission and values.

What activities, interests, and values help you feel alive every time you participate in them or talk about them? It's helpful to look back over your life for themes that have persisted since youth. When coaching clients, I call this process “finding the golden thread of our lives.”

Something — hopefully more than just the need for money — led you into doing this work. How are those core passions being expressed in your workplace? And if they're not being expressed enough, how can you find creative ways, or the support you need (friend, co-worker, manager, coach), to make it more fulfilling?

3. Schedule at least one, if not a few, “non-screen” times during your day.

I've noticed that when I've been sitting in front of a screen for long periods, I become unaware of my feelings. It's a bit unnerving as a kind of zombie-like numbness sets in.

Turn off your computer, leave your cell at your desk, stand up and try letting your body or heart lead things for a while. Go for a walk alone or with a co-worker. Play a game. Perhaps scream or sing (keep a pillow handy nearby if necessary to muffle the volume.) Talk face-to-face with a co-worker. You might be surprised to find that the delightful five-minute conversation actually saved you sending and reading several emails.

Do anything that engages you as a full person — body, heart, mind, and spirit.

4. Schedule regular daily or weekly play time with your co-workers.

This could be some board games, foosball in the office, a team sport — or it could be more social games with direct application to increasing creative flow. Here are two simple activities I might use with groups and that would be relatively easy for anyone to facilitate.

“Sound Ball.” A classic, simple, fun, energizing, and right-brain-expanding activity. The silliness of the game helps people to loosen up and not fear making mistakes or looking foolish — everyone looks silly, and mistakes are even encouraged.

  • Have the group stand in a circle. The first person “passes” an improvised sound (encourage it to be the first sound that comes to mind) to her right. That person “catches” the sound by repeating it, and then he passes a new sound to the next person. And so on and so on.
  • You can evolve the game in a variety of ways. Pass the sound anywhere in the circle; include a facial expression with the sound; include a “shape” (of a certain weight, size, or texture) for the sound; have the whole group repeat the sound, etc.

“Good News / Bad News.” This is a great activity for demonstrating the foundational improv principle of “Yes, And” as well as demonstrating how life tends to shift and transform.

Gather the group in a circle, ideally divisible by three, as each person will get a chance to start the story differently each time. Explain that you will give an opening to a story, something like "Lisa went to the beach."

  • The first person in the circle will then continue the story with one to three lines, like "The bad news is …  it started to rain."
  • The next person starts their sentence, "The good news is … there was a cozy café she'd been wanting to visit right next to the beach."
  • The third person will further the plot of the story by starting their sentence with "And so ...she settled in for the afternoon and wrote the first chapter of her book."

The three-part cycle continues with "The bad news is …” “The good news is …” “And so …” Story continues until they have all had at least one turn, possibly two to three turns, depending on your time and how much they are enjoying the exercise.

Make sure to debrief after activities by asking people what they noticed about the process and about their reactions. 

5. Create a comfortable play-space or lounge in your workplace.

While many new companies, particularly in the tech industry, include video game consoles in their social spaces, consider some alternatives. Yes, video games can be a fun way to play together occasionally, but when screens are around, we tend to turn away from each other as well as away from our bodies and creative imaginations.

Consider instead filling your new space with more physical games, art supplies, comfortable furniture to encourage socialization, white boards for playful ideation, board games that encourage creativity and discussion, etc. Get creative and let as many staff as possible help create the space.

6. Bring more of your personal, creative, playful life into the workplace.

The pressure to conform to a “professional image” often brings a spirit that is antithetical to play. While every organization has different policies, try pushing the edges to integrate more of your and others’ authentic selves into the workplace.

Bring some of your hobbies to your desk or new play-space. Play guitar during lunch breaks. Dress more creatively and authentically. Trust is the heart of all good business relationships, and authenticity helps cultivate that trust.

Some other playful and creative ideas to consider:

  • Leave secret notes and gifts around the office.
  • Play a funny and non-harmful prank on a co-worker.
  • Coordinate an improvised “flash mob” musical for unsuspecting staff or clients.
  • Make a silly or competitive game out of your current sales calls.

Trust your inner “coyote”– he'll show you the way.

7. Do some more reading and research on this subject.

Here are three great books I'd recommend:


You don't have to do this alone.  There are folks out there, like myself, who would love to help you and your team become more creative, innovate, playful and productive.  Give us a call to talk about our Accelerated Creativity, Team Ignition or other exciting offers customized to fit your unique situaiton.  

I hope you've found this article to be helpful.  Please give us a call (206-428-7626), send an email or leave a comment below and let us know if it has been, or feel free to add other ideas as well!


Leif Hansen is the founder and CEO of Spark Interaction. A nationally recognized group facilitator, trainer, and teacher, his workshops have been featured on a variety of media including NBC's Today Show, PBS Online and The Los Angeles Times. Contact him or for a free e-book with tips for engaging groups, as well as more activities.

*This list was related to a recent interview/article by Response Magazine on Play.  I was asked to give 7 tips on how to bring more play into the workplace.  I hope you enjoy it and contact me if you want any help igniting more creativity and purposeful play in your workplace.)


"PLAY Without Ceasing" (Interview: Why Work & Play Aren't Opposites...)

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November 9, 2012

Play Without Ceasing
{Photo by Luke Rutan: As CEO of Spark Interaction, Leif Hansen helps people use playful
“applied improvisation" 
exercises to come up with creative solutions to workplace challenges.  
Article Excerpted from SPU's "Response" Magazine., written by Jeffrey Overstreet.}


On Saturday, June 30, 2012, artists and writers gathered in the Seattle International Film Festival's auditorium to learn the secrets of Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios. With visions of finding careers in a field that values play, they took notes from the makers of Toy Story and Monsters Inc.

Play is a common theme in Pixar productions. Remember Ratatouille, with the rat who loves to play with food and becomes a full-time chef? Or WALL-E,the robot who turns his trash collection into a treasure hunt?

Wouldn't it be great if going to work always felt like going to a playground?

Pixar animator Matthew Luhn grew up playing in his family’s toy store. “Working at Pixar is like having all of the most creative kids from high school here at one company,” he says. “I don't have to worry about some producer who’s going to get upset at me for goofing around and doing what I do to make the most entertaining movie possible. It’s a rare thing.”

Rare as his experience may be, recent studies in business, neuroscience, and health suggest that we would benefit from more play in our work.

Leif Hansen ’93 wants to make that happen.

Agent of Play

Hansen calls himself the “chief engagement officer” of Spark Interaction, where he helps people “bring work to life through play.” He hosts events that enable people and organizations to “discover and creatively express their core passions in ways that make this world a more magical, loving, and fun place to be.” Asking corporate employees to give ordinary objects arbitrary new names, Hansen gets them fumbling with strange vocabulary until they’re laughing through absurd conversations. Later, they’re singing “Lean on Me” in harmony.

Hansen has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, on PBS online, and in The Los Angeles Times. His work began in the early ’90s, while a communications major at Seattle Pacific University studying the effects of screen-based communication on human relationships. “Already there was something in me that knew we were developing this new culture, and that the rules were changing.”

Sure, he carries a smartphone, but he believes that we can suffer psychological, neurological, and spiritual damage the more we let our relationships depend on a “technocracy.” “We’re becoming more isolated and frustrated,” he says. “Productivity becomes more important than our relationships, the quality of our relationships, the quality of our work.” He laughs, adding, “I call myself a ‘skep-tech.’”

What we're missing, he explains, is the stuff of “applied improvisation.” “We need human interaction, childlike wonder, opportunities for creativity and innovation and experimentation.” So he invites workers to participate in games and theater exercises that take them into unpredictable territory. He calls it “the dark.”

“When we're improvising,” he says, “we're in the dark. We don't know what's coming next.”

In the dark, he says, we make more mistakes. But that’s a good thing. “I will often start workshops by saying that, ‘Our goal is to accelerate the rate of mistakes. Our goal is to fail as much as possible in the next two hours.’ Then you realize, maybe it isn’t that big of a deal. Maybe there’s no such thing as failure.”

He thinks we will be pleased with what can come from the fun of frenzied “failure.” That “fun” is what he calls “the hum.” “Humor, humility, and human — they all have the ‘hum.’ It's the ‘hum.’ that brings us back to earth, to ourselves.” While “the hum” may be hard to hear at first, listen closely — it’s here at SPU.

From Legos to Proteins

In the office of Associate Professor of Biochemistry Benjamin McFarland, you'll find very little difference between work and play. He even uses toys to help illustrate challenging concepts.

In the office of Associate Professor of Biochemistry Benjamin McFarland, you’ll find very little difference between work and play. He even uses toys to help illustrate challenging concepts.

“I was in the toy store the other day,” says McFarland, “and they had a whole box of tubes that, when you swing them around, make musical notes.” Of course, he bought them to use in his classroom. “With a chemist’s eyes, I saw that you can only play five notes with them. They're quantized in the same way that electrons are quantized. Quantum mechanics comes from the fact that electrons can only be certain values, and these tubes can only play certain notes.”

You’ll also find Legos in his office. “I love Legos,” he says. “There’s something about the level of abstraction with Legos, the way they go together so easily, their bright colors. That’s one of the reasons I became a protein chemist. I love the structures of proteins. They remind me of Legos.”

Similarly, Hee-Sun Cheon, assistant professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at SPU, found her vocation in her own childhood play.

“I was so into theater, into role-playing,” she explains. “I was able to learn how to take different perspectives. That helped me develop empathy. Now, when I hear someone’s stories and struggles, my heart really goes through what they experienced. Without empathy and genuine connection, it is very hard to do therapeutic work.”

Her experience with “drama therapy” has taught her that humor and playfulness can give us a sense of security and freedom, helping us break out of “stuck-ness” at home ... and at work. “In drama therapy, we have a lot of theater games,” she says. “One of them is gibberish. We ask people to use nonsense languages to communicate. The mood is really playful and joyful. They’re bonding.”

That’s the same sort of game that Hansen uses to encourage trust, creativity, and productivity in the workplace. He’s made spontaneous gibberish outbursts part of his Spark Interaction activities. And he says that his seminar participants “report more trust, respect, and empathy with their co-workers, and, in their personal lives, a more creative flow.”

They often tell him, “I haven’t had this much fun since I was a kid!” He claps his hands in triumph. “Exactly!”

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