3 Essential Reasons for Serious Play

Can you afford not to explore the power of Serious Play in your business environment?
Employee Engagement

"All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten." The famous quote (and book) was made famous by the best-selling author Robert Fulghum. While our Kindergarten days bring us back to remembering to play fair, share with others, and clean up our messes, it also taught us that work and play are not separate but can be one in the same. In fact, they're so much better together.

Now take yourself out of the classroom and into the workplace, where play is thought of as a frivolous exercise, at best an indulgence we give lip-service to by having a foosball table in the lunchroom. After all, aren't we too busy and too grown up for play?

For years that was my attitude toward the team building games and activities my clients often requested during their annual team retreat or goal planning sessions. I resented these requests, and the precious time we would take away from the meaningful conversations needed to move the organization forward. But then I came across the concept of "Serious Play"-the condition of being serious and playful at the same time. The seeming oxymoron was distinguished more than 80 years ago by John Dewey (one of the founders of progressive education).Dewey described it as the ideal mental state. What if the play was designed to engage us in our best, business relevant, creative thinking?

One of the most robust, tested and effective methodologies of Serious Play was developed by LEGO in the 1990s. The LEGO SERIOUS PLAY (LSP) methodology is a radical, innovative, experiential process designed to enhance business performance. It is based on the belief that everyone can contribute to the discussion by using LEGO bricks as a medium to build and to express complex ideas through storytelling and metaphors.

Participants come away with skills to communicate more effectively, to engage their imaginations more readily, and to approach their work with increased confidence, commitment and insight.LSP creates a sense of fun and exploration while simultaneously getting to the heart of today's trickiest business issues.

Here are three reasons why serious play is an essential strategy in today's complex, uncertain and rapidly changing business environment.

  1. Need to Adapt: Research shows that play is a necessary adaptive behavior for all humans to develop social relationships and find creative ways of adapting to complex and changing environments.
  2. Elicit creativity: In an uncertain world, leaders must elicit the best and most creative thinking of the entire team. The use of LEGO bricks simply enables you to take a speedy shortcut to the core. The bricks work as a catalyst, and when used for building metaphors, they trigger new thinking and connections. As Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO said after a LSP session with his team, "Rather than thinking to build, build to think."
  3. Makes sense out of complexity: The process supports creating a landscape that makes connections and relationships among and between components clear, concrete, and easy to understand. The highly structured LSP process in combination with skilled facilitation assures that every person's core ideas, values and concerns are incorporated in the final solutions.

Of course there is one hidden benefit to Serious Play and that is a chance to have fun, take ourselves less seriously, and let some of the steam escape.

So ask yourself, can you afford not to explore the power of Serious Play in your business?