Lego and organisational development

Earlier this week I was invited to a seminar at the University of Edinburgh Business School. I have been invited to other evening events and usually decline to make the journey but two things made me decide to go this time. The first was the venue – the Business School has moved to new premises and I was interested to see the new setting for my alma mater. The second was the subject – playing with Lego for business purposes. Who could refuse? The seminar was organised by Invenzyme and used a trademarked approach called Lego Serious Play. I’m not a believer in people packaging old ideas in new clothes so I admit to being very skeptical at the outset. However, because I regularly ask people to draw ‘rich pictures’ of their organisational dilemmas (a technique I learned from Soft Systems Methodology) in my consultancy work I was interested to see how much difference adding a third dimension would make.
I think the answer is “a significant amount”. Though I have yet to use Lego in this way I am now planning to try out some model building on the course on organisational development I will be running in Oxford in a couple of weeks’ time.
Back to the Business School seminar. I was won over by the fact that we were each given a little plastic pot of Lego before the presentation. (But why did we all have to have identical pieces, I wondered.) Actually, it was just as well we had the Lego at the beginning because I found the presentation somewhat, how can I put it, lacking in energy. So I found I could easily listen to the speaker (15%), watch his rather good powerpoint (20%) AND doodle with my Lego at the same time (65%). Looking around the room at the fifty or so other participants, it was interesting to see the different reactions. There seemed to be two groups – those who didn’t open up their pots until told to do so and the rest of us who were already on our third construction before we were given the first assignment.
So, somewhat inadvertently, the speaker proved his point. That we learn better by using our hands as we listen and talk. All good Piagetian stuff.
The conditions were not the best for creative thinking. Ranked seating in a lecture theatre doesn’t make communication easy but the exercises were fun “Build a model of yourself as a leader”, “Build a model of a challenge you are facing in your work” each followed by a period of talking to the person next to you.
Before I attended I had looked at some of the background literature on Lego Serious Play and have since found other material explaining that LSP (as it is called) has gone Open Source. Well done Lego!
By an interesting coincidence (if there are such things), I found that one of the theoretical sources for Lego Serious Play is the book ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’ by Csikszenmihaliyi which I picked up recently and had started reading with great interest.
So what did I learn from the seminar? That playing while listening and problem-solving really does tap into interesting areas of creative thinking. That, as with all techniques, it is the quality of the facilitation that really makes the difference between a successful session and a flop. That I will try using Lego instead of rich picture methodology and see what difference it makes especially for those who say “But I can’t draw!” Perhaps most of all I learned that I still love playing with Lego almost fifty years after receiving my first set.