Are you a rejuvenile?

Marketplace Staff Jul 21, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Chris Noxon knows something about what it means to relive your childhood. He’s got a new book out about exactly that. It’s called “Rejuvenile.” One part of his theory is the more we have, the easier it is to be a kid.

CHRISTOPHER NOXON: Clearly this is a product of abundance and affluence, and I don’t have any illusions that this is anything but a sort of privilege. But I do think it’s a privilege that, you know, demands to be taken seriously and actually has some very positive upsides.

RYSSDAL: For example?

NOXON: Well, there’s a playful, creative, flexible part of ourselves that too often sort of gets stripped out of us when we grow up. And, you know, you can reconnect with that in kid games like kickball. I met my wife playing kickball.

RYSSDAL: Seriously? Is that true?

NOXON: I mean, we were 20-somethings in Silver Lake and we wandered onto a scruffy Little League park and found each other. I actually proposed to her by putting a diamond ring inside of a kickball and then reinflating it. But, you know, at the same time that I was doing that, there’s a kickball league now that has 40,000 players. There’s two Rock, Paper, Scissors leagues, one of which has a $50,000 tournament in Las Vegas . . .

RYSSDAL: For Rock, Paper, Scissors?

NOXON: I was there, and I got to play the champion.

RYSSDAL: How’d you do?

NOXON: I beat him. I stone-cold read him.

RYSSDAL: Did you go rock or scissors?

NOXON: I went rock.

RYSSDAL: Did you?

NOXON: In the end.

RYSSDAL: Let me get a little corporate on you here, for a second. . . . As companies see this happening. Whether it’s a 25-year-old who still plays kickball, or a 40-year-old who does Paintball or whatever it is, what does that say about how corporate America starts to think about its workforce?

NOXON: There are many companies . . . you know, Price Waterhouse Coopers, GM, and others who have hired these play consultants to come in and tell them how to make their workplaces more playful. Sometimes that can get kind of ridiculous and superficial. I worked for Viacom for a little while and they had a hamburger-eating contest one day where they brought in an In-N-Out truck into the parking lot . . .

RYSSDAL: The burger company . . .

NOXON: Yeah, and I can tell you it was one of the low-lights of my professional career.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, nobody . . .

NOXON: You don’t want to see your boss stuffing hamburgers down his face.

RYSSDAL: Along those lines, though, it does sound a little bit New Economy. You know, I was up in Silicon Valley during the boom and you had the foosball tables in the boardroom and, you know, lattes on demand and all that sort of stuff.

NOXON: This is definitely sort of a last vestige of that, but, you know, the play consultancies that are working now, and the corporations that I’ve talked to, are really trying to find ways to make this playful, childlike spirit much more systematic. It’s not about the climbing wall . . .

RYSSDAL: Have fun!

NOXON: Make your work more playful . . . not skip out and go stack Legos in the break room.

RYSSDAL: Well, if companies now have made it, sort of, a little bit more fun to be at work, isn’t it just another way to keep people at the office?

NOXON: Absolutely. I mean, I think that the rallying cry of play is often a sort of shield to hide more nefarious intentions. But, you know, oftentimes the companies that really have embraced the value of play find that their productivity and their innovation really do increase. There is a bottom line here. This isn’t either/or. The idea is that you can have a life that, you know, contains annual reports and cupcakes, and long stretches of quite serious concentration and real mad fits of impulsiveness.

RYSSDAL: I’ll close with this observation: You’re sitting here, a reasonably responsible-looking guy, but then you peek under the table and you’ve got your pink Chuck Taylor’s on and you’re talking about playing kickball . . .

NOXON: They’re raspberry. I want to make that very clear.

RYSSDAL: Are you at all worried about this, about what you’ve discovered?

NOXON: Yeah, I mean, I do have major reservations about a couple of things. One is, you know, that really essential difference between childlike and childish. It’s very easy to sort of get involved in cartoons or start playing video games and sort of succumb to this impatient, easily manipulated, leaving messes for other people to clean up. . . . You know, childishness is no virtue. And it’s something that I think rejuveniles, once they’ve identified that in themselves, really need to reckon with and be careful about.

RYSSDAL: Do you ever grow out of being rejuvenile?

NOXON: I sure hope not. I mean, I think about that in my own future and I wonder if I’ll still be a rejuvenile at 60 or 70. And I’d like to think that I will still be reading graphic novels and playing with my grandkids in the same ways that I play with my kids now. That playful essence is really genuinely human. I don’t think it’s . . . It’s not the exclusive domain of children. I’m glad that we live in an era when it’s accepted as that.

RYSSDAL: Christopher Noxon’s book is called “Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up.” Chris, thanks a lot for coming by.

NOXON: Thanks for having me.

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