Play Produces Serious Results

by Wendi Dijks, Ph.D., Jillian H. Gilbert, DSL, and Edgar D. Barron, Ed.D.

“... may you continue to learn how to play fully and with utter commitment, as a practice, a way of empathy, an interplay with other human beings that combines great freedom with great concentration and responsibility” (Nachmanovitch, 2009).

Reframing play as a serious notion can be a challenge for the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator. Used to help solve complex organizational challenges, educate the next generation of leaders, and unlock the power of perspective, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® positions itself as an innovative tool to inspire creative confidence.

To thrive in today’s fast paced workplace, individuals need to learn to think and act creatively by playing, collaborating, and testing boundaries (Reznick, 2017). The ability to be creative is noted as top trait for emerging and successful leaders. The future of the workplace is calling for more innovative and collaborative thinkers demonstrated by a recent poll of 1,500 Chief Executive Officers rating creativity above integrity and global thinking as the most desired leadership trait (Reznick, 2017; Carr, 2010).

How does one develop this trait? One solution is using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® To build a mental muscle known as creative confidence. The following overview highlights the results of a research study connecting LSP with the development of creative confidence, as well as offering applied findings which position LSP as a growing pedagogical method in higher education.

Using LSP to Inspire Creative Confidence

Creative confidence is an attitude or mindset and can be defined as the belief that one has the ability to use both divergent and convergent thought to propose fresh solutions to complex problems. At the core, creatively confident individuals are comfortable with uncertainty, have faith in their ability to create change in the world around them, and possess the courage to test it out in non-traditional ways (Kelley & Kelley, 2013). Creative individuals are trained to play and creative confidence can be built through collaborative opportunities to experiment, permission to fail, and a re-discovery of the childhood pastime of play.

The study explored if being in a state of flow and in collaboration with others while engaging in hand-mind construction through play, namely LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, can inspire creative confidence.

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The research was collected through an LSP workshop intervention followed by individual semi-structured interviews with the participants. A hybrid of both qualitative deductive and qualitative inductive methods of inquiry were used with a template analysis to analyze the data collected. The study explored the idea of using Lego Serious Play to inspire creative confidence while re-introducing play, of a serious nature, into the adult vocabulary and workplace.

The research study conducted by Dykes (2018) saw significant results in several areas relating to positive team dynamics and individual mindset shifts toward the way organizational problems are solved. Empathy for the other, perspective-taking, divergent thinking, deeper learning, and the presence of psychological safety all emerged from the participant data in support of positioning LSP as a tool for inspiring creative confidence. The findings support the use of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® for solving complex challenges in the workplace while building one’s creative confidence muscle through play.

The Impact of LSP to Educate Millennial and Gen Z Students

With the pace of change and the influence of technology, there have been significant shifts taking place within the organization. There is a new era described as superstructured organizations where social technologies and social learning drive new forms of production and value creation. Consequently, a new generation of organizational concepts and work skills will be needed that will be a departure from the traditional management/organizational theories that currently exist. Additionally, it is suggested that by 2025 the workforce will be comprised of 70-75% Millennials. 83% of the Millennials are anticipated to be in management versus 38% of GenX and 19% of Boomers (Morgan, 2014). With these dramatic shifts, institutions of higher education must reconsider ways in which to engage this new generation of workers to be equipped and ready to take on agile, complex, and fast paced organizational systems. As many theories offer a great foundation to the study and practice of organizational development, design, leadership, and psychology, research indicates that the Millennial and Z generations desire and seek opportunities to engage in the co-creation of their learning. Furthering this, the profile of these generations indicate struggle with complex problem solving, critical thinking, and face to face communication.

The LSP method is designed to help organizations work through and identify complex challenges. Additionally, with the 100% participation principle, and the constructionist theory fueling the method, individuals are challenged to think through and identify their own thoughts and then contribute to the thoughts of others. Additionally, the experiential component of LSP provides a platform in which significant learning can take place. Infusing LSP into the classroom experience within higher education will offer students the opportunity to engage course material differently, learn to play with ideas and concepts, play emergence, understand real time strategy, think 3D, and co-create solutions with their classmates in a productive way.

The Power of Perspective-Taking

Inherent in the design of the LSP method is its capacity to promote perspective-taking as a means of reducing implicit bias and making invisible mindsets visible. Perspective-taking, which is the ability to perceive an act or situation from someone else’s point of view, is an effective way of addressing the interpersonal dimension of complex challenges (Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000). LSP projects the idea of perspective-taking which is accomplished through the 100/100 principle and the fact that each builder owns the meaning of their model. Once the invisible is made visible, teams are empowered to clearly and objectively define their reality.

Play can no longer be defined as merely a childhood pastime as engagement with LSP reinforces the power of play while reintroducing and reimagining the word for use in the adult vocabulary.

This article originally appeared in the [LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Research Community Portaland is an annotated overview of a presentation given at the 2018 Global LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Conference in Billund, Denmark.


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Wendi Dijks, Ph.D., Jillian H. Gilbert, DSL, and Edgar D. Barron, Ed.D. are faculty members at Azusa Pacific University in the Department of Leadership and Organizational Psychology, which is housed within the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences.