Play Is Free And Legal Doping
This question became the catalyst for change decades ago when the LEGO company faced many challenges. The answer to this question has since helped to grow the company and to expand the minds of countless LEGO SERIOUS PLAY participants.
The method of LEGO SERIOUS PLAY was developed over 20 years ago, partly for LEGO and partly by LEGO. The company needed to revitalize itself during a period when kids all over the world had turned their backs on the small plastic bricks. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, LEGO’s owner, wanted a new strategy that would unleash the full potential of the leadership team.
“Kjeld had this idea that people are smart. They go to work to do well. But somehow, that intention and that potential are not fully unlocked”, says Per Kristiansen from the company Trivium—a facilitator and a trainer of LEGO SERIOUS PLAY who has worked with the method for many years.
Per joined the team very early, after the first pilots with different companies had proved the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY method worked.
“In the beginning, it was purely a strategy workshop. When we started to understand how it worked, we realised that it was not just a strategy—it was a method that could be used for many different things. LEGO SERIOUS PLAY helps people think and communicate, create solutions, and solve problems”, Per explains.
How It Works
LEGO SERIOUS PLAY works with a facilitator, such as Per Kristiansen, who asks someone a question to which they don’t know the answer, or they don’t think they do. The important thing is that it must be a question with more than one right answer.
“A question could be: What’s the value you want to create with 3daysofdesign? Then, the participants in the workshop build in LEGO Bricks what they think is the right answer… What you build is for sure different to what the other members of the team build because you build a metaphorical model of your answer. You build it, and then you share your story of what you built. People listen and then ask questions about your model, but they cannot interpret your model—they need to relate to what you have said”, he says.
Maybe you have a window in your model, and perhaps that window is closed. Then another person can ask you if it means anything that the window is closed. Only you can answer the question. People see and hear your story... We often talk about ‘listening with your eyes,’” he explains.
When building a LEGO model, you are building answers in your head through the use of your hands. You are essentially constructing new knowledge. Working with LEGO unlocks something that would otherwise be overlooked. Even the quiet, introverted type has the time to think before they answer, and they all get to say something. In this sense, the method helps to unlock their full potential.
Some people are anxious and worried at the beginning of the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY workshops. They think they’ll fail and they say to themselves:
“I have never played with LEGO bricks”, “I have not played since I was a child”, “It took me 15 years to become the CFO of this company, now I will look like an idiot playing with LEGO!”.
On the other side of the table, you have curious participants who can’t wait to get started.
“You also have the ones who believe that this will be a complete waste of time. But surprisingly enough, they tend to become the best participants. They care about the method when they realise what it does to them; when they realise that they think differently and that other people have understood them, they become very committed”, says Per.
“If I ask you to start building, you will probably build something you have built before. But if I ask you to build the value of 3daysofdesign, you will make new connections in your brain. Suddenly, the hammer that you are holding in your hand combined with the transparent brick becomes a metaphor. Our brains think in metaphors, and we use them for communication associations”, he explains.
Metaphors are emotional tags for the brain, and often their meanings can be more tangible than mere facts. What happens next in the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY method is that your colleagues will listen, see, and hear your built metaphors, and then remember them differently.
“If you have several paths for brain attention—visual, audio and tactile—people are more likely to remember. Playing does great things and makes the brain more flexible. When you play, you release dopamine and when that happens the brain is more open, and it's easier for it to make connections”, Per says.
Feeding the Brain Through Play
A quote that Per loves is from the writer Stuart Brown, who said:
“Play is like fertiliser for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it.”
“Of course, a person can be successful without playing, but they will not be as successful as they would otherwise have been. This fertiliser for the brain is free. It's free doping, and it's legal doping”, he says.
“You must remember to play, but you also have to remember to play well. When you play, you are imagining; not implementing. Play creates a safe space where it's okay to explore and experiment”, he explains.
The Courage To Play
According to Per Kristiansen, a workshop with LEGO SERIOUS PLAY requires two things:
“It requires a courageous manager because it takes courage to bring in play, and it takes courage to listen to other people; it’s easy to ask a question but it's hard to listen. It also takes a complex problem with many elements we need to understand, and more than one correct answer." Per goes on to say: “When you are handling ambiguity, managing complexity, and creating in those cases, I cannot see how you can manage without play.”
He remembers another important quote from the writer and Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) who said:
"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."