People tend to think of intense brainstorming sessions in a conference room when they imagine idea generation and problem-solving within an organization. In this Idea, an entirely different and much more novel way of developing innovative new strategies and solutions is presented: playing with Lego bricks! Read on to find out more about how Lego® Serious Play® can help you.
In the 1940s, psychologist Jean Piaget suggested that children use their hands-on experiences of the world around them to build and develop their knowledge. This theory went on to shape the modern approach to learning, moving it away from lecturing to passive audiences to actively engaging participants. Similar is the science behind a method known as ‘Lego® Serious Play®’ (LSP) — an activity during which participants channel strategic thinking and creativity through building three-dimensional Lego models and telling stories about them.
Discussing LSP in an article published in Strategic Direction, the University of Cambridge Judge Business School’s Allègre Hadida says that though executives often object that they ‘‘cannot draw’’ or ‘‘don’t want to get their hands dirty and smelly’’ with modelling clay, none of the ones she has worked with have ever complained about building models with Lego bricks. In fact, it is intuitively appealing to most, regardless of age or corporate status. The possible combinations of the bricks are near-endless, and so no two individuals ever end up building the exact same model, even when given instructions to build the same thing.
Hadida has worked with various teams using the LSP methodology; one wanted to develop a new strategic vision of their organization, another was trying to address concerns surrounding the rapid pace of change within their organization, and the third wanted to clarify the dynamics within its central management team. They all gave LSP a go to try and solve these issues in a original and unconventional way.
Participants were asked to assemble three-dimensional models using Lego bricks and mini-figures in response to challenges of increasing complexity, which were all in context with the teams’ concerns. When asked to describe the models they had built, participants contributed to “making the invisible visible” and gave meaning to their models, using them to reflect and to generate new ideas. A few managers claimed they had gained a new understanding through the models of their subordinates’ perceptions of their functions and the challenges they encountered in fulfilling them.
As Hadida’s findings demonstrate, the LSP process acts as a catalyst for discussions, and for team members to explore ideas together and find better ways of working together in the organization. Instead of placing too much emphasis on conceptualizing models first, using their hands to start building in response to challenges allows participants to use their imagination and creativity in ways that are unexplored within most organizations. It also helps that all of this is done in a playful, non-judgmental and non-threatening environment.
There has also been a surge of recent research exploring the positive role of ‘storytelling’ in management and strategy; similarly, the LSP methodology encourages participants to create and tell stories about, for example, their perception of what their organization stands for, what is happening around them, where they want to go, and how they are getting there. So, next time you consider strategic thinking, idea generation and team building within your organization, Hadida suggests “why not start building, and let your hands do the thinking for a while?” As she shows in this Idea, the rewards are tangible and plentiful.
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