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The Secret Ingredient to Building a Thriving Community: Play
Episode 4410th May 2023 • Elements of Community • Lucas Root
00:00:00 00:44:51

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Join me on the latest episode of Elements of Community as I sit down with Steve Rix, a human development expert with 30 years of experience in both public and private entities. Steve's playful nature has led him on a rollercoaster of entrepreneurship, culminating in the founding of PlayLab. He's passionate about building a legacy where companies create playful, happy people everywhere.

In this episode, we explore the secret ingredient to building a thriving community: play. Steve shares his insights on how play is essential for human connection, inspiration, and productivity. He talks about how he's designed his business to be centered around play and how this approach has yielded better results for his clients.

We also dive into the importance of paying attention to our emotions when we're in a playful state, and how this can lead to higher levels of energy and motivation. Steve shares some practical tips on how to start experimenting with play and encourages listeners to reach out to him with their results.

So come and join us on this playful and insightful conversation, and learn how play can be the star in your life, not just a walk-on actor.



Yeah. I'm not gonna lie. When we were attempting to retrieve the data, every step we took, I was like, oh, it might work. I might get a second chance. So here we are, take two.

Take two. So since unlike you and I, we've been through this one since the audience has not been through this once with us, would you like to tell them why? I enjoyed our conversation so much the last time around and why they will enjoy you this time.

years of my life literally [:

Or perhaps what the ultra wealthy are perceived as doing all the time, right? Like I see it differently and I began postulating in my own mind. What if there ways were where I could use Play to be more authentic, to be more creative, to be more pliable, to have a greater level of energy and productivity towards something for which I'm giving focused.

y feel like when we turn our [:

So for me, I think just a quick recap is that Play is an essential component to real deep, meaningful community. We touched on that. I'm sure we'll revisit those things again, based on the five tenets that you've laid out for your listeners in the past. But I think I have to be selfish and also say there's a secondary reason why I think you're going to enjoy today because, you know, in our lives we're blessed to every now and then meet people who you feel like, wow, I've known that person before.

And I'm not getting into your ideas about past lives or future lives, but you just have that sense of knowing, right? And you and I have that. And it creates a lot of joy for me to listen to what you say, to be present with you and really to have no agenda for today.

Like, [:

Ah, what an awesome way to look at it. That was for us. Yeah. That's amazing. Thank you, Steve.

Yeah. For you. You're welcome.

I personally take technology fails personally, and I know that it has nothing to do with me, but, you know, you're in the moment. You're producing something and the tools that you use to produce that thing are your choice.

And so when they don't work, you feel like you made the wrong choice, maybe. But your reframe right here, that was for us like that allows me to look back at that experience and say, wow, that conversation and the others that we've had, but that conversation in particular was only meant to be for us to enjoy.

Yeah, that's true. And how do we know? Because it's what happened.

ause it's what happened. The [:

Sometimes it's very easy for us to. This is not a word, but to complexify things, right? It's like we make it harder than it needs to be. And I very much appreciate.

But, that should be a word.

That should be a word, right? Complexify.

It should be.

Yeah. But yeah, when we get right down to it, it's simple. Everything's in exchange. And I believe the more playfully we can come to exchanges, the more meaningfully we can connect within them. And that's perhaps one of the top two or three things on my mind every morning when I wake up. I think about how can I playfully approach my day?

How can I serve my wellbeing in the day and how can I authentically connect with others? And so yeah, here we are connecting and I hope as people hear this, they'll feel a connection to us and wanna reach out and listen to your podcast more cause it's amazing.

e this picture of you in the [:

What do you mean when you talk about Play?

s becomes subservient to the [:

The second thing is I'm wildly authentic. I have perfect self-expression. I could be on a dance floor and being a goofball. I could be playing you know, some game. The one that comes to mind for adults all the time is oh gosh. Now why am I forgetting it? When we're trying to get people to say different things from using our hands, what's that called?

Oh, like charades.


It's great game.

When we're doing something like, yeah, right, because it allows us to just say, okay, everybody's all gonna be a goofball, trying to get everybody else to just figure out what they're saying. But it's a beautiful idea of Play because I have perfect self-expression and in just a moment I'll illustrate what you just said, which is how Play doesn't always look like charades are ultimate Frisbee, but it's definitely present.

n the opening. Like when I'm [:

But when we played softball afterwards, he was right next to me. We're having beers together, chatting it up, and what I realized is that Play became the neutralizer to whatever preconceived notions we have about each other. And when we play, we get to connect because we see a different side of ourselves.

So we're present. Perfect self-expression. We're very much connected with others. We have immediate access to imagination and innovation. Like when we're playing, we don't want that play to end. It's fun. So we'll find different ways to extend it, to keep it going, to take the feeling that the physiological byproducts of play, which are heavily laced in dopamine, which is a fantastic thing.

that Play is it's nothing of [:

But if you take those five things, I double dog dare ya, a little playful expression to find any other state of being that gives me access to all of that instantaneously. That's what I say Play is. And for some that could be cooking for others, it could be opening the hood of a car, ultimate Frisbee, standing up in front of a mic and doing improv.

Gosh, that would scare me. Just boo. Like I'm funny, but I'm only funny when I'm become the joke, not because I can tell good jokes. Right? But we're all different. And so that's kind of my short, but very measured definition of Play, and if we were to begin to experiment with what that looked like, I think we see that we're far more playful than we adults think we are.

I love it.[:

It's kind of like doing puzzle work, which is Play. I love the idea that doing the dishes or cooking could be Play, you know, I am very much an inflow chef when I'm cooking and I've never thought of it as Play, but you're a hundred percent right. That's exactly what's happening.

I've got pieces that I'm putting together in a very special way to build a picture.

t how we think about work as [:

Just wash it and love on it, and rinse it and look at it and cheer and say, I created this clean work of art and put it down and do a dance with a new one. And I thought to myself, much like you, I enjoy cooking. But I'm not gonna lie, I hate the cleanup.

And so it's funny. The other morning I looked at my dishes and I said, baby, we're gonna have a dance. And that got through those dishes with such joy. It was crazy. So a lot of it's how we frame it, right?

Wow. That's so cool.

Yeah, it's opportunity to bring joy to things like that.

ity. Can you talk about that?[:

Yeah. You know, if a community lacks Play, then, in my world, one asks how do they create their authentic communication? How do they create their perfect self-expression? How do they access innovation? And there may be other ways. The fact is, let me rephrase that. I'm certain there are other ways.

lay or amuse themselves with [:

And the first seven years of our life you know, brain experts talk about the theta wave state, right? Like we're just gathering. And all these experiences of Play are not designed simply to grow up. They're designed because the human experience is really designed to be a pleasure filled joy, filled journey.

And Play brings joy to the community. Play can resolve the conflicts within the community. I remember recently I watched a documentary where young men learn how to become, or young boys learn how to become men with this very competitive, almost painful style of sword fencing in tribes in Africa, like hit leaves some bloody marks on them when they're done.

d a connection because these [:

And so Play can be a real glue for a community. It can become the heartbeat of community all. And while I don't think Play is simply a reward, it certainly can be something that draws community together. If we have any historical evidence of that, all you gotta do is look at family reunions, three leg races, you know, jumping tug of wars, you know, that kind of softball dodge ball at least in our modern culture, right?

thing to feel bound and like [:

But the sooner they walk away, like the better because I want to be with people who are all in on their lives because I know as I create that around me, that becomes the highest and most formative, like magnetic form of community there is, you know, community shows up in gangs, right? Where a whole bunch of weak people try to present is strong.

But what happens when a whole bunch of strong people who are givers present stronger and in doing that, provide an enormous outlet to expand and grow the overall community.

Yeah, yeah. Wow.

c, pun intended. Right? Like [:

You have to be a mad scientist, it might as well be like that.

Absolutely. Yeah, for sure.

Wow. So I obviously, I talk about the, the six Elements of Community and I like to have these conversations and this is an amazing one and I like to tie them back into the elements so that I myself can see how they fit into this framework and or how they break the framework, which is equally good.

And I see a couple of things I see Play as language. So how we play, what we choose to play, it's actually part of the language we're building into the community, how we talk to each other, how we receive messages and share them, how we interact with the way that we build out the story of the community.

So language is one [:

A boardroom, a project. So I see language, I see projects. Do you see other ways that it fits into the Elements of Community and or do you want to talk about those two?

Well we can definitely come back to both of those, but I think and I don't wanna forget them, the language for sure. And the projects. However, one of the six elements was also a heartbeat, right? Something to that effect.

The heart. Yeah.

Yeah, so we dabbled with this path last time and when we finished I thought afterwards, ah, I wish I had remembered and now I know why.

equent book called "The Blue [:

I have spent an enormous amount of time reading about "The Blue Zones".

Awesome. So this is gonna just like, because I'm 56 and I mentally don't feel older, right? When I was a kid, my grandfather died at 65. So in my head back then, I only have eight more years, right? Like, but I, when I tell you, I think in my terms of my life with 80 more years, part of what affected that was "The Blue Zones".

And one of the things that was really fascinating to me about "The Blue Zones", because you know, this you read it was they didn't all have the same diets. They didn't all live in the same climates. Right? Some would have as the English would would say, a fag every day, right? In the morning of the evening, you'd see was a smoker, right?

etimes they had fatty diets. [:

And not once a year either.

No, it was a weekly, regular thing. So like, that's why I really think the heart of community can be centered around the joy of almost like, and we could talk more about this later. I think work in many respects is not the opposite of Play, but it's the manifestation of clarity of how you play productively, but not withstanding in community, people come together, the work is done we play.

ana, which means the work is [:

That was amazing.

So yeah, I think there's a lot to be said about how it's the heartbeat of community. Does that make sense?

I love it.

Yeah, me too. It gets me excited.

That's amazing. So, to dig into heart a little bit more. This is interesting. It maybe even adds a new dimension and I'll talk about that. So heart was heart and here's the new dimension as well. In Common Heart, it is the sharing and receiving of care. It is showing up and doing the work that you do with honor and pride for the community and through the community.

se you know that you or your [:

And so you do the work that you do for the community with the love and honor and pride that you and or your mother is the recipient of that work. And here's how Play might be, Play as the heart of the community might be adding a new dimension to that.

One of the things that I talk about, it's not community if when you don't show up, people don't notice you. So you have to be missed in order for it to be community. And Joe on your right and Jane on your left have to be missed in order for it to be community. If Play is part of the heart, then when Play is absent, Play is itself missed.

might have done that anyway, [:

Yeah, you know, if we wow. That's a great, great focal point because when you think about your memories, With the people who you're near and dear to, like even us, everything we've done together in my construct has all been Play. And the reason I say that is because I look at new relationships like an exploration.

ff that's gonna make us have [:

But if you want take it to practical examples, my son and I, I have a lot of memories with my son already, and he's 29. But my greatest memories, every one of them is from something playful. When he wanted to play street hockey and we played one-on-one, he always got a kick out of tripping my roller blade as I'm heading to the goal and making me bite the and laugh, right?

You know, we'd go dirt biking and he'd always say, we have to play hide and seek on dirt bikes. You know, today, we play golf and we have a few beers and then we pass out on the beach, right? Like my best memories of anyone and everyone are somehow embedded with something playful. Never thought of it that way, but true story.

That's amazing. That's a really cool new dimension to common heart.

Yeah, for sure.[:

Yeah, let's do it.

So I believe that if you took the most six or seven, I don't know, even maybe as many as 10 countries in the world whose human governance is in total opposition to one another. The classics are China and the US or Russia and Ukraine, but there are many others, right? But if you took a child from each of these places and put them in a room together before they could speak a word, there would not be an ounce of animosity.

pounding. It's looking to do [:

If I have a piece of grass in my hand and I can't speak, I'm gonna get another piece of grass and hand it to you, right? Like everything about Play invites connection as a form of language, even in the unfortunate situations of military when the world of insurgent guerrilla warfare showed up in the 60's through Vietnam.

From that point forward, all soldiers are taught to have candy bars and some form of ball when they're going into a unfamiliar place so that they can offer candy and play a game to disarm. It's an amazing universal language that propagates peace and relaxes intensity. That's what Play does.

Wow. That's very cool. I [:

Yeah, it's true, right? It's true. And, you know, I had told you I had some little, do you offer the Video podcast or are people just gonna hear us? I don't remember. Can they see us too?


Okay, good.

Some people watch.

Some of you get to see us, you'll enjoy this. Yep. For those of you who hear, imagine a slinky, and for those of you who don't know what a slinky is, go look it up. You'll enjoy it.

I think almost everybody knows it. Yeah, that is what a slinky is, but go look it up. So I have a slinky in my hand. When I was growing up, they were made out of metal, which would rust or aluminum, which had sharp edges. This is plastic and it's multicolored. This in of itself is a form of language.

what it speaks to me may not [:

And I don't like details naturally this will be right by my side because if I have creative block, the colors activate me to think differently. And simply manipulating the toy and making it pliable reminds me that my brain is pliable, and if I'll just relax a minute, I'll access things that I currently don't feel like I have access to.

Now, that's a big message for a small piece of plastic, but it works every time and every human has things just like this. So in that sense, Play can be language, and it doesn't even have to be facilitated by something. It could be a sound, right?

sound and maybe the mic will [:

The clicking of a pen.

Yeah. And like for me that sound does nothing. For some, it irritates the crap out of them, but for others it stills their mind from whatever else is going on, focuses on the pen, and then just gives them access to other parts of the brain. They couldn't get in that moment.

That's an auditory stimulant, right? I showed you tactical stimulants by things we touched. There are visual ones, right? Like, every time I look at this book, I don't have to read an ounce of it.

Places You'll Go.

By Dr. Seuss. I gave this both my kids when they graduated high school.

My parents gave that to me when I graduated high school.

eet in my shoes. I can steer [:

I love that because it's usually put in third person or in second person, you, that kind of stuff. But I don't ever have read it. I can just look at it and it becomes a visual reminder. Oh yeah. If I'm in struggle, just go to the middle of the book. It's called "The Waiting Place" and I get to decide how long I wanna wait and struggle.

And, these are not perfect sciences, right? Like I'll give you one more. I love the Minions because they get themselves.

Ahh, the minions.

So much trouble. They get themselves in so much trouble. Again, for those listening, I've got a little, I think Bob's the one eyed guy. But I got a little bob in my hand from the minions.

And that's what the minions [:

And what are all these things, messages or languages that Play creates. Now, if you take it to the last one and you put it into projects, well, frankly, that's what our company's done. We've said, let's build a project whose singular purpose is to experiment and experience the byproducts of Play intentionally to make my life better.,

So yeah, whether it's projects, community based language, heart, I'm sure it applies in other ways, but man, you got me fired up again, dude.

That's what we're here for. Let's light the Fire.

For sure.

Cue the doors zone.

That's right.

Amazing. I love that. By the way, my wife's totem animal is the minions.

awesome. She and I are gonna [:

She is a hundred percent about the minions.

That was awesome.

Oh yeah. You talked about auditory stimulus. So I actually had a friend reach out to me recently and asked me this question and boy I did not expect it to show up here. He said what music is best for learning?

And of course answer he was expecting was for me to say Mozart, cause that's what everybody says. But of obviously equally, of course. My response was I don't know how to answer that question. Because there are actually three different purposes to music and each person brings that purpose into their life in a very different way.

In order to learn, you need to be able to focus, and some people have so much noise inside their head that music actually provides. We call it a stimulant, but what all it is a stressor and it stresses your brain enough to close out the noise so that it can focus on the task.

Think hunting you [:

Coffee is a light mild stressor. We call it a stimulant, but it stimulates by stressing you enough to give your mind that impetus to close out the noise. Music does the same thing. Music is a stressor. So for some people they need music as a stressor, so it closes out that sort of the background noise of their mind chatter so that they can be focused on the task.

And Mozart can do that, but so can any other music, if that's the reason you need music. That's number one.

Number two, we are beings of resonance. It is an absolute truth. And so there are resonant tunes, resonant tones that work differently inside of our body just because of the way that we're made up.

And [:

And the reason that we call that a perfect, a perfect fourth, and the same thing is for a fifth, a perfect fifth on that scale is because the distance between those two notes triggers something inside of our brains to allow us to change the way that we're ingesting information in that moment. But if all you need music for is as a minor stressor, then you don't need music that's got perfects built in perfect fourths and perfect fifths. It's not necessary.

, then any stressor will do. [:

Now is when you're gonna want to turn on Mozart. Right? So those are two vastly different experiences for vastly different needs, both, which result in better learning. And this is why when he reached out and said, which music helps with learning, I'm like, I'm sorry I can't help you with that question. I need more information before I can answer it.

Wow. So I didn't know we had something else in common. I was a music minor in college, loved music. And just as there's a perfect fourth, there's also an augmented fourth. And the best way to illustrate how that might sound is with a passing tone. And the biggest thing in culture that would give us that is the little jingle from the network NBC, it goes like this, N B C.

entation to music, it desires[:

And the thing that fascinates me most about music is a form of play. And I've never really heard it in the form of a stressor, but we talked about this in the pregame, how I use music sometimes to become my focal point, right? It becomes the distraction to keep me from getting distracted, which it's.

ergetically when I'm playful.[:

Whatever the tone is, it's resonant. It's not dissonant, it's harmonious. Now one of the things I learned in music is that not everything is a melody and a harmony, right? Like you literally have competing melodies. And we see this a lot in music today because of the creativity of DJs taking an old song and a new song that you know, it's kind, it's called counterpoint, right?

They're playing off of each other. And so the really important thing about Play as a language, especially when it's musical, is watching how quickly people come together, even when they're different. Wow. I'm just so filled with joy that you bring up music. Like I spend about 10 hours a week on social media.

ut our company responding to [:

I was scrolling and she was center stage, front row of a Brad Paisley concert. Now, I'm not a big country fan, but I recognized him. I think he's been on American Idol or The Voice or something like that. And he says can you sing? She says, yes. She said, and I guess he was singing a song that had a lady's part, and I'm guessing this gal was in her mid twenties.

She's like, will you let me sing with you? You sure you can sing? I'm sure. Alright. Come up on stage. And the next thing you know, here's this wonderful human being who doesn't know this star, but they're singing together like they've known each other forever because of the beauty and frequency of music and its ability to connect.

my gosh. You've opened up a [:

I love it.

And you're right. You're right, that answer is not easy. People will all learn and receive differently. The only one asterisk I put by this is like, people ask me all the time, do I like lots of music?

And I like different kinds of music. The one I really don't resonate with of all is that really dark thrasher screaming kind of thing. And I'm not picking on those who do, but one of the things I observe about this real, it's not even heavy metal, it's like Thrasher, is that generally the lyrics are dark and generally it's screaming, which is really hard to find a vibrational frequency in screaming.

And if you think about anger,

How interesting.

in, not picking on those who [:

I love the way you put that. There are some curious things to play with.

Yeah, no doubt. And that's all it ever is anyway. Just an experiment. Some work, some don't. And when they don't say, that didn't work, let's try something else.



Yeah. Like Play?

Yes. Yeah, cause Play will always keep your attention. It just may take different forms, which of course is the beauty of play. When have you ever seen, when someone say, all right, I've had enough play in my life. I mean, if I've ever heard it, it comes from a programmed mind that feels guilty for not working, but it doesn't come from a natural place.

igned my business to be Play.[:


Far more productive.

Love it. Now this is a little bit unfair cause these questions are typically a surprise to the guest. But they're not a surprise to you cause we've been through this once. But Steve, I like to end my interviews with three questions. The first is for these guests that are delighted by you and I'm hoping that every single one of our listeners is what is the one best place for them to reach out to you?

Probably the one best place is my email because I check it daily. It's And we can start with a conversation and if it makes sense, happy to get on the phone and connect with people. I really have no filters or access controls to me. Like I wanna make time for anyone who wants to make time for Play because The Playground is opened 24/7.


I love [:

Yes. Pretty simple.

The next one, which is typically my big curve ball, but you're prepared and that's not fair, is if there was one question that I haven't asked you yet but you wish I had, what would it be?

Yeah, and I answered this.

Probably has to do with music.

ayful state, because thought [:

And I find that when I am in a playful state, I'm at the highest level of energy I have, which means I'm also at the highest level of likelihood to actually produce an outcome because I got high energy and a huge desire to convert on what I'm seeking. So experimenting with Play and paying attention to emotion may be a wonderful little rabbit hole for people to go down and I like, if they do it, shoot me an email.

Say, Hey, here was my experiment, here was the outcome. Because I'm all the time looking to see the outcomes of people's experiments with Play, so that would be the question I'd ask them.

ns and reach out to Steve at [:

I'm so glad we had this time together. I don't, I like, I just, I'm filled with joy. I hope the listeners can sense that our exchange was nothing short of a playful experiment in a conversation. Playing off of each other's ideas and exploring the possibility of how life can be better when Play is a central component to the life.

ho've forgotten how to play, [:

And I know it's not about promotion, but I'll say this, it's like, that's not enough for you. Just go check out my book at You don't have to buy it. You can get an excerpt from it. You can get some ideas from others if you like what you see. That entire simple read is dedicated to the things I just said.

So that would be what I'd say as parting words, cause Play does Save the Day. You just gotta give it a chance. Let it be the star in your life, not the walk on actor. That shows up once in a while.

Love that. Thank you, Steve.

My pleasure. It's been great being with you.