We speak of the «Peter Pan Syndrome» to describe adults who won’t leave their childish sides behind. Also human resource management tends to turn to more creative and even childish ways of rethinking innovation and office management. For instance, the toy company LEGO is tapping into the opportunities of this trend by developing LEGO Serious Play; a tool and a method for companies to enhance innovation and business performance. Identifying trends is useful when trying to reduce complexity and figure out a pattern of change.
The world is growing more complex at an accelerating speed. Change and complexity are more than ever challenges for every business, and businesses need to adapt fast. One way of doing this is to boost your agility and strategies by using futures studies. Futures studies can especially help organizations and companies understand change within their field, and in a broader perspective. Along with creating scenarios and working with megatrends, an important tool of futures studies is trend identification, which this article demonstrates.
We speak of the «Peter Pan Syndrome» to describe adults who won’t leave their childish sides behind. We see a strong growth in adults buying products or engaging in activities that generally are aimed at children and youngsters. Also human resource management tends to turn to more creative and even childish ways of rethinking innovation and office management. For instance, the toy company LEGO is tapping into the opportunities of this trend by developing LEGO Serious Play; a tool and a method for companies to enhance innovation and business performance, Google has organised «playrooms» for their employees to relax, and a large number of companies have worked with gamification in both marketing and human resources.
The above is a brief description of a trend, one of eight in the new report Trends for Tomorrow – Exploring the potential of eight trends as they unfold, from the Copenhagen Institute of Futures Studies. Identifying trends is useful when trying to reduce complexity and figure out a pattern of change. Trends are important since they bolster our understanding of the complexity that surrounds us, and are helpful in guiding our decisionmaking by identifying emerging opportunities and threats via focus on key items observed through a process of systematic horizon scanning.
Nearly all work in futures studies begins with or involves horizon scanning. It is the art of systematically scanning the external environment for indications or evidence of emerging issues. Horizon scanning identifies individual observations of items – events, activities, ideas, products, companies, or other occurrences located on the fringe of mainstream society.
Rarely are single observations indicative of an emerging trend. Rather, individual observations form the basis of identifiable patterns. As these collections of observations and subsequent patterns cluster together, it gives rise to a phenomenon or emerging issue that can, in combination with other phenomena over time, be considered a trend such as one described here by The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies (CIFS) and called: The Peter Pan Syndrome Creates New Markets.
Indicators of the trend
One indicator of this trend is how many grownups have begun reading children and young adult (YA) books. A US study from 2012 showed that 55 % of YA books were bought by adults, particularly the age group of 2044 years 1, which accounted for 28 %. The adults admitted that 78 % of the purchased YA books were for their own pleasure. A brandnew Danish study shows an even more pronounced result: For four selected YA books no less than 64.1 % of library loans were by adults, and 54.7 % of loaners were 30 years old or more 2. Among the bestgrossing movies ever are movies based on children’s books, toys and comics for children and young adults 3.
Time Magazine has made a list of products made for children, but now also marketed to adults. They introduce the list by writing: «Who says kids should get to have all the fun?»4 On the list we find e.g. LEGO and multivitamins in jellybean guise. Also LegoLand Discovery Centers, where you can build things with oversized LEGO bricks, are normally for kids, but have begun organising «Adult Nights» where you have to be 18 to take part. In a similar vein, Walt Disney World has begun making evening events for grownups – without kids, of course. Another somewhat curious example of this trend is the Swedish DIY chain Clas Ohlson, which markets itself as being a «Gubbdagis», meaning «kindergarten for grown men»5. Adults are also playing games, for instance in reality shows and competitions on TV that show adults playing at e.g. being castaways on desert islands in Survivor or various shows with obstacle courses reminiscent of oversized playgrounds.
There’s a shift in our understanding of what constitutes products (and activities) for children and products for adults. The consumer segment called AFOL, Adult fans of LEGO, is growing steadily and has conventions in among other places London’s largest convention centre, ExCel Exhibition Centre6. And LEGO events are growing popular for corporate teambuilding7.
This is a trend with two sides: One side identifies children’s products that are bought, cultivated and played with by grownups. Products like movies, games and books are even
increasingly marketed and designed to many different segments and age groups simultaneously. The other side of the trend identifies how HR Management is grasping the advantages of play, innovation through creativeness and a blurry line between work and play/leisure.
In 2005, Credit Suisse in Zürich introduced a Multi Space concept where the ca. 200 employees are free to move around between various types of work stations, among other things beanbag chairs and couch groups; a sort of ‘open marketplace’ for work stations8. As stated in the beginning of this article, at Google you can find ’playrooms’ where employees can relax or be creative. As an experiment, Google has also organised its New York office with a conference room imitating a small, typical New York apartment9. Common for the many new interpretations of the office landscape is that they mustn’t look like offices; they are playgrounds as well as workplaces.
Homo ludens – the playing man
Some would call the trend infantilism; adults refusing to let go of the innocence and playfulness of childhood or harking back to that age from pure nostalgia, like Charles Foster Kane longing for ‘Rosebud’ in the 1941 movie Citizen Kane. However, this is most likely too facile an explanation. Times have changed a lot, and with new times come new needs and new norms.
Mankind isn’t just homo sapiens, the thinking man, but also homo ludens, the playing man. Central cultural phenomena in all cultures have their roots in games and myths. In the Industrial Age, this playfulness was suppressed; you had to be ‘grown up’ and ‘serious’ to succeed. Playing could only find an outlet in sports, which strengthened the body for work. Only realism was socially and academically accepted in literature and movies – anything else was seen as silly escapism. Today, when more and more jobs in the production and service industries are automated and the creative industries are growing, imagination and playfulness in return become increasingly important parameters for success. Today’s icon is the Paypal billionaire Elon Musk, who has started a number of ‘overgrown teenager’ projects involving space travel, electric sports cars and superfast trains.
In 2004, the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies described a budding market, work and consumer logic that at its foundation had the creative, playful and innovative person: Creative Man. Creative Man’s logic describes the creative people that like to use their own abilities to create something new and original. If things aren’t exactly as they should be, they are changed. Creative Man doesn’t adapt to the world; he (or she) adapts the world to become better suited for him and others. He is an individualist, but not an egoist.
Among many other elements in Creative Man’s logic lies recognition, almost a celebration, of the childlike and childishly creative. This trend can be seen elsewhere than just in toys that are used by children and adults alike. The idea of playing your way through life can be found at management and organisational levels and has become a vital part of a modern company. Creative Man is a contrast to the Industrial Society’s logic, which favored hierarchies at the workplace, a clear division between work and leisure, and a focus on material needs. Ten years later, companies and organizations embrace Creative Man’s logic and have reinvented the workplace with everything from gamification to flexible work hours, a fluid boundary between work and leisure, and a strong focus on the creative innovation process.
Flexibility in the workplace has become an important factor, both because of more severe time constraints, but also in the development of creative ideas. Harvard Business School is on the cutting edge and offers a course promising participants that: «The course will introduce a variety of tools and techniques («props») that, with repeated use, will help students think more expansively, creatively, and effectively through all phases of an innovation project». These «tools and techniques» can with some justification be translated as «toys and games» – things that stimulate creativity, innovation and analytical thinking, but used to be seen as mainly being for kids.
When adults read children’s and YA books and watch children’s and YA movies, play with LEGO and even play at work, it may be because the focus on play and childhood express imagination and creativity, and that this sense of wonder is increasingly important in a time when creativity becomes increasingly important. This development may also be seen as a sign that we are moving away from the sharp division between childhood and adult life that very much characterized the industrial society.
Impacts and potential opportunities
The trend signifies, along with a celebration of the childish, the death of adulthood. This is a consequence of a changing societal mentality towards what it means to be an adult and what is allowed in different phases of life. A large percentage of the population around the world seem to at least delay (the traditional understanding of) adulthood, this may be a consequence of more and more people, and especially more women, getting better educated and therefore start a family later in life, thus allowing one to remain in a free «youth phase» of life for longer. This phase (Free 1) is changing and expanding both in the work force and as consumers, and described by the CIFS in the report 21st Century Lifestyles (2014).
With a changing workforce come new norms and values. Organizations and businesses can benefit from including play and games in the workday, either as part of several innovation processes or through using gamification as a tool to make work more fun for workers – or simply as fun breaks in an otherwise tedious and stressful workweek. Happy employees are good employees, and a ‘play break’, e.g. with table tennis, may quickly turn out to be worth the time and money. Gamification and «serious play», such as the LEGO Serious Play method, are significant indicators of this trend and are linked to breakthrough innovation where an organized playing situation, with new rules and rituals, can lead to creative solutions to what used to be everyday problems. Structures and strategies that were «normal» or «habit» for ages, can also be viewed in a new light though play.
The trend also affects new talent management. The new generations delay family and can therefore work longer hours and travel more; however they are not fond of traditional hierarchical management and prefer to be viewed as individuals. This is also reflected in the work trend «bring your own device», where more and more, both out of free will and a more loose organizational structure; bring their own mobile phone, laptop or other equipment to work, and even chose, from day to day, if they prefer to work from home, the office or a third work place, such as a café.
The notion ofthe good life» combined with the Peter Pan Syndrome, has great potential for talent management, and attracting new talent. Since barriers between work and leisure time are increasingly blurry, work and life seem to be viewed in a more holistic way, which organizations and businesses can benefit from, e.g. by being branded as «a fun and free place to work» in order to attract new talent.
All in all, The Peter Pan Syndrome presents several business opportunities and opportunities to rethink your business and innovation processes, and have fun with your employees and coworkers while doing it!
Written by Anne Dencker Bædkel, futurist at The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies.
1. «New Study: 55% of YA Books Bought by Adults», Publishers Weekly 13. september 2012, bit. ly/1cA7G1P
2. Annegerd Lerche Kristiansen: «Flere voksne end unge låner ungdomsbøger», Politiken 16. oktober 2014, bit.ly/1rFBjTv
4. Brad Tuttle: «12 Things Made for Kids that are now being Marketed for Adults», Time, 23. september 2014: time.com/money/3419105