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LEGO(r) SERIOUS PLAY(r) - why and how does it work

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Article developed for Society for Organizational Learning Global Forum in Oman

LEGO(r) SERIOUS PLAY(r) - why and how does it work

  1. 1. LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY™ Per Kristiansen, Partner Trivium per.kristiansen@trivium.dkAbstract. This paper shortly introduces LEGO SERIOUS PLAY, what it is, an argument for why it works, and thehistory of the method. The paper is intended to provide background before the workshop at the SoL 2008 GlobalForum. It does not intend to deeply discuss the underlying theoretical platform This ensures that each participant’s viewpoint is shared, 1. INTRODUCTION listened to and understood by the entire team. The insights and shared understanding become the basis for 1.1 What is it developing innovative and actionable solutions. LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is an innovative, experiential The outcomes developed by the team during the process designed to enhance innovation and business workshop are then agreed upon and the workshop performance. It taps into a team’s creativity, enabling outputs are recorded and provided to the client. them to create robust solutions for organisational challenges. Although the use of LEGO bricks in business might at first appear unusual, it has become a The method has been used in a wide range of settings much recognised and favoured tool used by leading like strategy development, mergers and re- organisations worldwide. The LEGO SERIOUS PLAY organisations, team development, mission and vision methodology is now widely deployed by ambitious development etc. organisations faced with tackling challenging business issues. 1.3 Core beliefs and theories The approach to learning can in brief be termed as It is based on research that shows that hands-on, minds- “hand knowledge” on learning produces a deeper, more meaningful One key contributor to this field is Seymour Papert understanding of the world and its possibilities. This [e.g.: Harel I, and S Papert (ed), 1991] approach to learning is combined with an understanding of the world as a complex adaptive system. This more cognitive approach to learning is then complimented by the works on flow by Mihaly In short, LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is a facilitated Czikszenthmihalyi [e.g.: Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1991] technique for solving complex challenges. It taps into a team’s imagination enabling them to create robust solutions for organisational challenges. Finally, at the very core of the method are the following three beliefs: 1) The answer is in the system. The In short, the method is designed to unlock the full complex issue has emerged in the system, and in the potential of the team. same system the answer can be found. LEGO SERIOUS PLAY helps the members of the system to It was developed at LEGO in collaboration with leading move to a new knowledge level where that answer is experts in strategy and organisational behaviour. constructed, i.e. to expand the system; 2) Everyone has an untapped potential, and goes to work to do well. Alas, when we do not do well, it has more to do with 1.2 How does it work in practice how the work has been done, than with the employees The main objective of any LEGO SERIOUS PLAY capability and intention; and 3) We live in an inherently workshop is to develop a solution for an identified dynamic, complex and unpredictable world business issue. The workshop design is then developed; the actual design is done based on the essentials, which the 2. WHY DOES IT WORK accredited facilitator has learned during his or her certification LEGO SERIOUS PLAY draws upon extensive research from the fields of business, psychology, organisational The facilitator provide the participants with clear development and education. This section will explore challenges and time to think about the challenge. In this some of these sources in order to explain why it actually process they then make a metaphorical representation of works. Robert Rasmussen kindly contributed to this the challenge. In other words abstract ideas are made section. concrete and presented
  2. 2. 2.1 Accessing what we know directly because it functions unconsciously. Just as weBy having participants make use of multiple know unconsciously, we remember unconsciouslyintelligences—visual-spatial intelligence, [Caine, R.and Caine, G., 1994].linguistic intelligence, and bodily-kinestheticintelligence [Oliver, D and Roos, J. 2003]—teams All of this bringing forth of new ideas and imaginationdiscover what they didn’t know they knew in a very would not be possible without a robust method ofdirect manner. expression, some medium for giving form to a person’s inner thoughts and ideas. LEGO bricks provide part of this rich medium for expression. Consider that eightAs mentioned above LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is built LEGO bricks can be combined in 102 million differenton the theory of Constructionism [Harel, L. and Papert, ways; the possible combinations for hundreds of bricksS 1991] from Seymour Papert, at MIT and his idea of is mind-boggling. LEGO SERIUOS PLAY also makesconcrete thinking—thinking with and through concrete use of metaphors, as participants are asked to make aobjects. story around what they have built. Metaphors provide richer descriptions of our realities that might challengeConstructionism proposes that we gain knowledge when assumptions and reveal new possibilities. The linkwe construct something external to ourselves. Research between metaphors and learning has been widely researched:has shown that the use of objects as part of an inquiryprocess can make hidden thought more discussable.[Edwards, 1986; Barry, D. 1994] Constructing internal Metaphors generate radically new ways ofmental maps becomes easier when you build external understanding things [Schon, D., 1971]models that can be examined, shared, and discussed.This is consistent with psychology and art therapy thatuses drawing, collage, and sculpture to create analogues A series of dominant metaphors shape the way weof internal mental maps. [Edwards, 1986] understand organizations in which we work [Morgan, G., 1997]. Metaphors transform us in their potential to uncover perceptions, attitudes and feelings which wereIn building 3-dimensional models with LEGO bricks, previously subconscious or unarticulated [Barry, D.participants literally think with their hands. The hand 1994].becomes an avenue for the brain to construct its ownknowledge of the world. In the words of ImaginationLab researchers who have been working with LEGO onthe conceptual underpinnings of LEGO SERIOUS 2.2 Deep and Sustainable ResultsPLAY, “One of the roles of the hand is to shape how we The combination of the above methods approachesthink. If we move our hands or make gestures to help us ensures that the results are deep and sustainable.think, we can assume that using LEGO materials toconstruct physical representations of ideas, concepts,and models of strategy might generate new content.” In the words of some participants[Roos, J.,Victor, B., and Statler, M., 2003]. And it is no “LEGO SERIOUS PLAY has changed the way wewonder that the hand is such a powerful avenue for work”learning. The link between the hand and the brain is “LEGO SERIOUS PLAY provides a tool to have fiercewell-researched.[Wilson, F., 1998] 80% of brain cells conversations, interrogate reality, provoke learning,are in fact connected to the hands. In a mapping of the tackle potentially tough issues, and enrichbrain that shows proportions of it dedicated to relationships.”controlling different parts of the body, adisproportionately large part of the brain is dedicated tocontrolling the hand. The method integrates social, cognitive, and emotional dimensions into group exercises.The new insights from participants are a result ofbringing the unconscious to the conscious. Learning Research shows that people are changed significantlyencompasses both conscious and unconscious and irreversibly when movement, thought, and feelingprocesses. We make unconscious associations between fuse together during the active, long-term pursuit ofvarious events. In addition, we have different ways of personal goals. Learning is much deeper and theorganising memory that work in concert, including experience becomes memorable, almost “hard-wired.”spatial organisation (memory in relation to three-dimensional space), temporal organisation (memoryorganised by chronology), and semantic organization LEGO bricks convey both strong cognitive as well as(universal concepts independent of space and time, e.g., emotionally-charged information [Said, R., Roos, J.,mathematical rules). For each type of memory, there is and Statler, M., 2002]. Emotions play a particularlyan explicit type of memory that we can consciously talk strong role in learning--they are useful in alerting us toabout and an implicit part that we cannot talk about important environmental changes, to appropriate
  3. 3. responses, and to anchor important events in our long- Provides a frame within which resources can beterm memory [Scherer, K. and Tran V, 2001]. prioritized. [Glynn, M., 2000]2.3 Complex Adaptive Systems Seeing patterns and principles behind decisions thatFinally, LEGO SERIOUS PLAY can be used worked well leads the team to a set of Simple Guidingeffectively as a means for revealing complex adaptive Principles. These become guidelines that enable thehuman systems so that teams know the landscape and organisational members to make good decisions,are better prepared for the future. Complex Systems impacting the system favourably.being systems were the system and the agents co-evolve, and no-one constrains the other completely 3. THE HISTORYComments from participants include: “It became easy to describe complex relationships in a 3.1 Developing and launching LEGO SERIOUScomplex process.” PLAY“We now act with a stronger sense of “self” in the face The research that led to the development of LEGOof competition for resources internally and in the face of SERIOUS PLAY was initiated in 1996-97 grounded inexternal competition.” a personal wish from Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, 3rd generation in the family owning the LEGO Group.“We uncovered simple guiding principles in order to Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen was less than happy with themove into meaningful and effective action.” strategy method used at that time. His company was famous for developing imaginative products, but theA strategy workshop would typically, as its first key strategy sessions applied were all but that, and with thedelivery, solidify a deep and shared understanding of toy market and the concept of childhood as such wasthe organisational identity, then explore the landscape in undergoing radical and rapid change, this waswhich the organisation exists. This landscape would be decisively not good news.made out of the agents and the connections/relationsforming the system. Finally, this “landscape” in Thus, he was looking for a method that would tap intophysical form is used for playing out emergence and/or the imagination of his employee, harness the potential,testing probable scenarios. and a process, which would anchor the strategy in the unique identity of his company. Finally, he wanted toThis use of a physical medium is consistent with have a strategy developed which was dynamic takingresearch on the use of visual representations to name into account that we live in an unpredictable world, andand indicate relationships between important entities on the strategy should be constructed by the people whoa bounded landscape [Huff, A., 1990]. would be implementing it.In establishing the shared organisational identity the During that same period Professors Johan Roos andfirst step is to allow the participants build their personal Bart Victor at that time at IMD, a leading businessunderstanding of the identity, this is then followed by a school in Europe, were also noting the poor results fromnegotiated process that leads to the construction of the traditional strategy development techniques: They hadshared model. This allows for a full range of for some time researched in and worked with new formsperspectives to come out, unbiased and untainted by of strategy and strategizing. Having worked in the fieldothers, before developing the shared model. for a number of years and followed a range of companies, they were puzzled with how even the best managers struggled with developing new and originalResearch shows that organisational identity: strategies.Provides groups with the confidence to be proactive[Gioia. D. and Thomas, J., 1996] They were simply amazed with the lack of imaginationAllows groups to be better able to avoid, weather, and in strategy creation. Most often what they came acrossrebound from was a re-heating of last year’s ideas and a projection ofcrisis [ Whetten, D. and Godfrey, P., 1980] last years goals. They found this even stranger as they both believe that most of us, even managers, have vastIs essential to long-term success of a group [Collins, J. untapped resources.and Porras, J., 1996]Has powerful impact on decision-making processes[Fornbrun, C., 1996] When the three of them connected they realized that they were facing the same challenge, but fromHelps define issues as threats or potential opportunities difference perspectives. It was also clear that they[Dutton, J. and Dukerich, J., 1991] shared a set of key values around people as the key component to organisational success, and strategy as
  4. 4. something one lives rather than has. Rather than 8. Fornbrun, C. (1996) Reputation: Realizing Value fromfocusing on the strategy plan, it was about strategizing. the Corporate Image. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 9. Gioia. D. and Thomas, J. (1996) Identity, Image andIn short, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen offered to fund the Issue Interpretation: Sensemaking During Strategicresearch to develop a strategy method. As an anchor for change in academia, Administrative Sciencethe research the organisation Executive Discovery was Quarterly, 41, 370-403.set up. This little spin off company was associated with 10. Glynn, M. (2000) When Cymbals Become Symbols:the LEGO Group. During the research, the professors Conflict Over Organizational Identity Within awere struck by the obvious: The LEGO brick would be Symphony Orchestra, Organization Science, 11(3),the perfect means for tapping into the unconscious 285-298.knowledge of the employees, helping them to make it 11. Harel, L. and Papert, S. (1991) Constructionism.concrete and real. In order to help integrating their Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporationdomain of strategy making, leadership and 12. Huff, A. (1990) Mapping Strategic Thought. NY: Johnorganisational behaviour with the LEGO/Learning Wiley.domain, Robert Rasmussen from LEGO joined 13. Morgan, G. (1997) Images in Organization. BeverleyExecutive. The author of this article joined Executive Hills, CA: Sage Publications.Discovery in the research and development process that 14. Oliver, D. and Roos, J. (2003) Constructingfollowed the very first tests in LEGO. During that Organizational Identity, Imagination Lab Workingprocess LEGO SERIOUS PLAY was tested with broad Paper 2003- 10, Lausanne, Switzerland.range of companies from different industries, and afterthis successful period LEGO SERIOUS PLAY was 15. Roos, J., Victor, B., and Statler, M. (2003) Playing Seriously With Strategy, Imagination Lab Workinglaunched “commercially” Paper 2003-2a, Lausanne, Switzerland. 16. Said, R., Roos, J., and Statler, M. (2002) Lego Speaks,The first group of facilitators was trained in Sept 2001. Imagination Lab Working Paper 2002-7, Lausanne,Executive Discovery/LEGO SERIOUS PLAY was later Switzerland.integrated into the LEGO Company. It is still delivered 17. Scherer, K. and Tran V. (2001) Effects of emotion onthrough a network of partners, and the applications now the process of organizational learning, Handbook ofstretch well beyond the original strategy workshop Organizational Learning, 369-392. New York: Oxford University Press. 18. Schon, D. (1971)The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. 19. Statler, M. and Roos, J. (2002) Preparing for theREFERENCES Unexpected, Imagination Lab article, Lausanne, Switzerland..1. Barry, D. (1994) Making the Invisible Visible, Using 20. Whetten, D. and Godfrey, P. (1998) Identity in Analogically-Based Methods to Surface Conscious Organizations, Thousand Oaks, CA; Sage. Gioia, Organizational Processes, Organizational D.,Schultz, M., and Corley, K. (2000) Organizational Development Journal, 12(4), 37-47; Marshak, R. Identity, Image and Adaptive Instability, Academy of (1993) Managing the Metaphors of Change, Management Review, 25(10, 63-81. Organizational Dynamics 22(1), 44-56.; Sarbin, T. 21. Wilson, F. (1998) The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the (1986) Narrative Psychology:The Storied Nature of Brain, Language, and Human Culture, New York, NY: Human Conduct, New York: Praeger. Pantheon Books.2. Caine, R.and Caine, G., (1994) Brain-Based Learning.3. Collins, J. and Porras, J. (1996) Built to Last, Chatham: Random House.4. Csikszentmihalyi, M. Flow—The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York City: HarperPerennial, 19915. Dutton, J. and Dukerich, J. (1991) Keeping an Eye on the Mirror: Image and Identity in Organizational Adaptation, Academy of Management Journal, 34, 517-554.6. Edwards, (1986) Drawing on the Artist Within NY:Fireside Books; Barry, D. (1994) Making the Invisible Visible, Using Analogically-Based Methods to Surface Conscious Organizational Processes, Organizational Development Journal, 12(4), 37-47.7. Edwards, (1986) Drawing on the Artist Within NY:Fireside Books; Case, C. and Dalley, T. (1992) The Handbook of Art Therapy, Routledge

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