lego brick

Creative problem solving with LEGO® Serious Play®

We at Frantic are always looking for new tools to facilitate workshops and do better co-design to solve design problems. I was lucky to be able to participate in a LEGO® Serious Play® workshop last summer and I got excited about its power to enhance creative thinking.

I wanted to try it out with my colleagues - and we learned how LEGO® Serious Play® can yield serious results and improve creative problem-solving. 

LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) is a facilitated thinking, communication, and problem-solving technique and it can be used within individuals, teams, and organizations. It was developed by LEGO Group in the 90’s and it has been used in their strategy process. Since 2010 it has been developed as an open source technique.

Simply put, it is about solving complex issues by building models using LEGO bricks.

It can be used for many different kinds of purposes -  in strategy development and exploration, organizational development, with change management, innovation, product development and creative thinking and transforming ideas into concrete concepts. Initially, I was mostly curious about using it in the innovation process but became convinced about its power on a strategic level as well.

Three-step brick builds

The process itself is quite simple. (But don’t let the simplicity fool you, the system has been developed on a wealth of information concerning individual and group learning!)

The first step is setting the challenge: the facilitator has formulated each building challenge in a way that will open up reflection and dialogue by considering the purpose of the workshop in advance as well as understanding the problem and its context.

Then comes the building phase: it’s time to build your LEGO model that represents your reflections on the building challenge. The last step is sharing: time to share your meaning and the story that you have assigned to your model. Also listen actively as others share their insights and metaphors.

This process will be repeated several times during the workshop, it starts from understanding the context at hand and with LEGO® Serious Play® skills building (that means you need to practice a bit to be able to trust the method) and moves to even challenging assignments and problems.

More creativity through hands-on building

What I love about LEGO® Serious Play® is that you're using what Serious Play practitioners call ‘hand knowledge’ to foster thinking and creativity. Hand knowledge, or hands-on doing or thinking with our body, means that you’re using your brain in a more effective way. Creativity is a muscle that gets the best workout if you're doing something - running, walking or taking a shower. But at work, those techniques are rarely useful, especially if you want to be creative in a group or at a certain time.

We need creativity in today's work life and building something concrete can lead to more creative and successful outcomes than what expected.

Benefits of bringing play into work

I think that bringing play into work means creating space for you and your team to discover, fail, and try out new ideas. Because of play, you might be more open to completely new ideas. Brainstorming and workshops can easily guide us to social cohesion and compromises rather than inventing the most innovative option – that’s what Serious Play solves.

Play can also help you to forget existing organizational roles and hierarchies that might hinder the creative process. Our mind loves to think what it already knows, so we really need to push ourselves to go beyond that to be truly innovative and creative.

Creativity also needs boundaries and play is normally limited by time and space. And of course, when you use it to solve complex problems the facilitator has a huge responsibility to picture the problem and design questions accurately.

With LEGO bricks, you always start working by yourself and build upon that, that means that you can first sketch your own idea and your idea can develop also during sharing. And if you let your unconscious mind work, you'll notice more meaning on your model once you start sharing the idea what it stands for. This also means that every workshop participant participates 100% - each individual brings her own idea to the table.  

What did we learn?

Our time for the workshop was quite limited, but the most important thing we learned was how difficult it is to just let yourself build without thinking.

I asked feedback from the participants after the workshop and one question was: ’What would you improve for the next time?” One sentence really nailed it:

"More building, less thinking."

I only briefly explained what the LEGO® Serious Play®  was really about when we started and I think my colleagues really got it. The answer is in the system - you just need to let yourself build. We had a really great conversation after the workshop with our designers on how the facilitator can encourage people to really let go and just play and build.

We also learned that we would all like to do so much more. While you can actually prototype quite complex systems, like organizational and strategy models or product systems, we mostly created individual models because of time constraints. Next time, we'll focus more on teamwork.

If you're interested in hearing more, just ping me on LinkedIn or Twitter. I'd love to share my experiences with creative tools and also learn more from you.