C.H.E.M. book review of PLAY: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play

Remembering what play is all about and making it a part of our daily lives is probably the most important factor in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical – not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.

Lately, I’ve been going through my library to look back on — and to update — some important innovation influences. And I’m writing a series of book reviews using my C.H.E.M. Persuasion Model for communications effectiveness:

  • Connect – to fit in their world, not try to disrupt it
  • Honest – utilize your best data, not distort it
  • Easy – share information, not make it more difficult
  • Motivate – to show customers how to take action, not demand it



Dr. Stuart Brown is medical doctor, psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play. A former clinical director at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in San Diego, as well as an associate professor at the University of California in San Diego, he speaks regularly to Fortune 500 companies and groups around the country about the importance of play in our lives.

Brown produced a three-part NPR series on play. He has appeared on NPR and was featured in a front-page story in the New York Times Magazine. He lives in Carmel Valley, California.

David Kelly, founder and chairman of IDEO, says this about the book: “Stuart Brown has spent his career exploring and explaining what few others take seriously, that play makes us better people and that play makes the world a better place. Play is fun, natural, and necessary. Play is an important and inspiring book.”

Dr. Brown has used play therapies to help people who are clinically depressed. He frequently talks with groups of parents who inevitably are concerned and conflicted about what constitutes healthy play for their kids. He has gathered and analyzed thousands of case studies that he calls Play Histories.



Some adult play often has the qualities of work. For example, business people on a golf course seem calculated and controlled, focused on making the sale. They might be self-critical, competitive, and preoccupied. Another example is runners.

Runners World recently categorized runners into four types:



Dr. Brown shares a six-step framework for play originated by Scott Eberle.

  1. Anticipation
  2. Surprise
  3. Pleasure.
  4. Understanding
  5. Strength
  6. Poise

Dr. Brown also presents eight play personalities:

  1. the joker. Fun, laughing, and nonsense.
  2. the kinesthete. The body, living.
  3. The explorer, always seeking new experiences.
  4. the competitor, focus on the rules and trying to win.
  5. the director, who enjoys planning and organizing.
  6. the collector, having and holding in a methodical way a collection of objects or experiences.
  7. the artist and creator, making things is his primary goal.
  8. the storyteller, imaginative expression in writing, acting, music, and art.



Dr. Brown encourages us to use play in a refreshing sort of way. He says it fuels us like oxygen, both physically and emotionally, breathing new life into our daily activities and relationships.

Three of the action steps he motivates us to take are:

  1. Take your play history. It’s not a quiz or a test but rather a journey. In this play test you ask yourself about your life experiences with play.
  • When have you felt free to do and be what you choose?
  • Is that a part of your life now? If not, why not?
  • What do you feel stands in the way of your achieving some times of personal freedom?
  • Are you now able to feel what engages you most fully is almost effortless? Search your memory for those times in your life when you have been at your very best.
  • What have been the impediments to play in your life?
  • How and why did some kind of play disappear from your repertoire?


  1. Expose yourself to play. Engage in humor, games, and activities.
  2. Nourish your sense of play, especially with others.

In conclusion, play is a blend of cutting edge science and inspiring personal stories that prove that play just might be the most important work they can do.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this book review and summary using my C.H.E.M. Persuasion Model outline. I welcome your comments, feedback, and experiences to share.


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