Crabtree said she believes toys and silly objects — like the wicked witch from the “Wizard of Oz,” her legs sticking out from underneath Dorothy’s house — are valuable. They relieve stress, build community — and they are amusing. “We have to keep our spirits up,” she said, so the staff of 10 can tackle some “very serious work” creating marketing or branding campaigns and Web sites to fight AIDS or women’s heart attacks or promote Georgetown University.
Toys at offices around the Beltway certainly are not as common as pencil holders, but neither are they merely decorative or the purview of parents with young children. They encourage creativity, brainstorming and imagination. They can be found in some creative departments and advertising agencies, on some association executive director’s desks and even at NASA.
“The toys are a good way to introduce kids [to] what space is all about. Let’s face it — we all like to play with toys,” said Alan Ladwig, NASA’s deputy associate administrator of communications, who’s in charge of public outreach, including exhibits and astronaut visits. Plus, he said, they are a great conversation starter for meetings.
Ladwig’s office is filled with vertical rockets and space shuttle toys, plus his own folk art showing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids hiding out behind moon rocks. His favorite is a Japanese horizontal rocket with a spaceman in the cockpit and a TV camera that moves back and forth when it’s turned on.
As a child, he said, he watched “Wagon Train” and played with six-shooters and cowboy hats. As an adult, he’s worked for NASA three times — and also amassed a collection of space toys and memorabilia that used to fill his basement. Most of it has been donated to the St. Louis Science Center. But he kept some duplicate items and a few favorite treasures that are in his workspace.
“It sparks people’s imaginations” to see the space toys, he said. It sparks his, too, and in an agency that’s filled with engineers and scientists, he appreciates the creative boost.
When you take a short break and throw that Nerf ball through a hoop for seven minutes, you’re reducing stress levels, recharging batteries and encouraging the creative self to show back up, wellness experts and researchers say. The minutes spent playing with Legos or a rag doll or Jenga could give you an “incubation” period when great ideas grow or it could give you some energy for the rest of the afternoon.
Yet many workplaces prefer the clean professional look to a desk covered with wind-up toys or miniature ponies and mermaids.