Workplace blogs
Workplace blogs

Purposeful Play at Work

I had the tremendous privilege of being granted a private tour recently through the Innovation Gallery of Milliken’s world headquarters, in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

A global design and manufacturing company, with 39 manufacturing facilities throughout the world, Milliken is a company that can lay claim to being not only a global leader in innovation and design, but also to being one of the most inspiring workplaces I have ever visited.

Milliken is celebrating its 6th consecutive year of recognition by Ethisphere Magazine on its “World’s Most Ethical Companies” list. Their focus on doing good is ingrained in their history and runs deep through their culture.  Milliken’s recycling program, for example, predates most company recycling programs not by years, but by decades, having started in, wait for it…1900!   Throughout the depression, Milliken helped to keep many small towns in the U.S. alive,  they’ve helped communities in times of crisis, and today, their sustainability practices are decades ahead of the marketplace.

Part of their innovative practice, and what caught our eye at Humor at Work, was their workplace creed which embodies a concept they call Purposeful Play.

Purposeful Play is the spirit with which Milliken employees embrace their work. It’s about playing with passion, with a sense of purpose and with imagination to achieve great success. It’s a mindset to describe how employees seek out opportunities, explore challenges, and work towards creating a better world through unique insights and innovative designs.

The Milliken spirit of Purposeful Play reminds me of a few of my favorite “playful quotes”:

  • “You can’t be a serious innovator unless you are ready, willing and able to seriously play. “Serious play’ is not an oxymoron; it is the essence of innovation.”  Michael Schrage
  • “Play so that you may be serious.” Anacharsis (c. 600 BC)
  • “To be playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the ideal mental condition.”  John Dewey
  • “To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for unlimited possibility.”  James Carse

The last quote is one of my favorites because it captures an attitude I have embraced my entire life and it speaks to the dynamic dance that exists between creativity, innovation and play.

During my time at Milliken, where I was so inspired by their commitment to the highest ethical standards and by their mind-boggling array of innovations,  I wondered why more organizations don’t embrace such a powerful idea of making the world a better place by using the power of play to allow for unlimited possibilities.

Michael Kerr, 2013.;  Michael Kerr travels the world researching, writing and speaking about inspiring workplaces.  For great ideas, tips, inspiration and a few laughs along the way, sign up for the critically acclaimed Humor at Work e-zine at 




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