Artifacts, not just for archaeologists

Artifacts, not just for archaeologists

At the end of a workshop, it's great to have some artifacts that capture where/how people ended up in their interactions and learning. Sometimes we take pictures of whatever they've created in LEGO, and other times, if we've used a variety of methods to play, it's something that sums up, as only post-its, sharpies, colorful paper, and glitter can, what happened. It may seem like a random mess to people who didn't do the activity, but for those who did, it's a meaningful reminder. 

Here's an artifact that illustrates this well, above:, For an organization, we did a "Group Chemistry" workshop to create an element, which we named after the organization (but not yet, alas, recognized on the Periodic Table of Elements). Like any molecule, it's made up of smaller parts: atoms (the colored circles) and quarks (post-its) and so on. It captures the gifts each person believes they bring to the organization, how they combined them in our "chemistry lab," and what they believed the result of that reaction would be (glitter paper).. In some ways, an artifact is like a secret language, because it's gibberish to outsiders meaningful to those on the inside.

The Rule that Respects Everyone

The Rule that Respects Everyone

One of the great great features of Lego Serious Play is that each person is the boss of their model--they build it, they say what it means, and no one can change that. When we work with grownups,being the boss of their build it helps the quiet persons have an anchor, and if anyone asks questions, it's about the model, not about the person.

We've invoked that rule when we do our come-and-go builds with kids, as a way of keeping the parents from being directive and taking the play out of play. But recently we used it in this situation: a little 3 year old girl was building away. The 4 year old boy next to her reached over and started fiddling with HER model, and she protested. The two moms involved said, "Oh, let him be." And when the little girl reached over to HIS model, they stopped her, saying, "Oh, that's HIS model." We invoked The Builder is the Boss of the Build Rule--not just out of respect for the persons involved, but as a way of undermining what looks like a sexist leaning.

Helipads at Your Firm

Helipads at Your Firm

A small real estate/construction company, just starting out, wanted to express and explore how each of the team members saw the company's future, and their contributions to that future. And that's what they did in a 3-hour workshop (or, as one of them said, "WHAT?! It's been 3 hours already?"). Here's some features:

  • a commitment to nature (the trees),
  • elegance (the entrance),
  • transparency (the glass door),
  • achieving/aiming together for a tall, strong firm (the tower in the back),
  • respecting individual differences (individualized offices). 
  • Plus the helipad on top of it all. Everyone liked the helipad, a sign of good things to come.

BUT this build also flagged a potential issue: when the team built their individual contributions/offices, one person put himself far far far away from the others. I dunno, that's the kind of thing I'd like to know about how my team members see themselves in relation to me.

 Not included: the models reflecting each team member's contribution and connection to the firm.

Not included: the models reflecting each team member's contribution and connection to the firm.

 

 

 

 

Incognito Super Heroes

Incognito Super Heroes

Recently, we did a one-hour workshop for a county agency as part of an employee appreciation event. When we were briefed on what these employees did, we learned that they are front-line care providers dealing with troubled people and a TON of bureaucracy and never enough time. After hearing about their heroic and often under-acknowledged work, we designed a workshop to reveal who and what they really are: Incognito Super Heroes. People  first identified their own secret super powers (the things they think are No Big Deal but which make a difference) and then together built their group's Incognito Super Hero. Below, just a few Super Heroes they came up with--do you see the repeat of Captain Resilience in two different groups from two different days? Just demonstrating what great ideas people have, if you give them a chance to play with a pile of bricks.

Better Meetings

Better Meetings

Meetings can be hell not only because they can go on and on, but also because they can sandbag people with questions they weren't expecting (the green monster on the left) and that can make them look bad (the dark blue monster on the right). Meetings, to use a term du jour, are not often places of "psychological safety." But what's the big deal about this concept? Are meetings to become a feel-good zone where no one's feelings are hurt? No.

Psychological safety is important because it promotes productivity, and reduces the chances that the workplace is toxic. It makes it possible for a group to admit and learn from their mistakes, pool their knowledge and do something with it, including experimenting and taking risks. That kind of group can fix things and make them better.

Psychological safety depends on everyone in the group, ESPECIALLY whoever is in charge or has power, sharing and acting on these beliefs:

- no one is going to embarrass or punish someone else for admitting mistakes or speaking up

- everyone assumes good intentions from everyone else

- everyone actually cares about everyone else as a person

As it turns out, the materials and methodology of LEGO® Serious Play® lend themselves to fostering psychological safety. A challenge is posed: everyone has a chance to respond to it by themselves (without one person taking up all the air and framing the conversation). People share: each person determines how much to say about their model (without any invasion of privacy), and "own" the meaning of the model (without anyone telling them what they "really" mean). Any discussion that ensues is in terms of the models, not the people. Plus, it's in a playful atmosphere, forgiving of errors and encouraging experimentation.

If it's something important you're meeting about, think about improving the psychological safety of the group: improve the experience and the outcome.

To read more on psychological safety, see Charles Duhigg's recent article in the NYT, or Amy Edmondson's research on psychological safety and team learning behavior.

We can agree on what makes a Bad Boss

We can agree on what makes a Bad Boss

When we ask a question and let people respond using play, whether it's LEGO bricks or pictures, one of the first things participants notice is that everyone built or chose something different. Play is great for bringing out divergence. But it can also reveal agreement, as we saw with one of our workshops on leadership.

Unless you've been very lucky in your employed life, you've had a nightmare boss. We can swap "awful boss" stories with others and marvel at the many ways bosses, and leaders, can be bad. But, it turns out that bad leaders share some common characteristics. The people who built these models worked in different jobs and industries, and built their models independently, and yet arrived at quite similar models. The archetypal Bad Leader is someone who uses power to belittle and constrain workers, leaving them no sphere of independence, and sparking a bunch of negative emotions. Aaarrgghh, bosses!

In the US, we value freedom and individual autonomy, and a modern corporation is not necessarily a great place to find those things. But we're missing part of the picture here: we need bosses to build their Nightmare Employee!

Above and below, some examples.                                                                                            BANNER, ABOVE: A bad leader has a lot of eyes on everyone, watching everyone to see if they Do It Right, and with a big black shield protecting him from any criticism. All that he does, all his work, adds up to a meaningless jumble of stuff (the stack of differently-colored bricks).

LEFT: I'm working in a dungeon, and there are rats, real rats, that we had to set out traps for (orange bricks). The boss is standing apart, separated, by her design--she just gave orders.

MIDDLE: The leader is driving the organization, but there's an eye (not visible in photo) looking backwards, to go with the leader's constant complaining. There's blockage, and I had to have an exit strategy.

RIGHT: The leader is on top of the stack of bricks, who are all the employees. The leader has all the power, but there's a bridge to freedom.

 

Future Church

Future Church

Here's another come-and-go community build workshop, this time to help adults at a regional meeting for a mainstream denomination envision a future. We offered a choice of two challenges: "It's ONE HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW, and the Church is THRIVING. Build (1) WHAT it looks like or (2) HOW it happened." Below are some of the resulting models, with summary titles,

When we use play, such as the Lego® Serious Play® methods and materials, to move a group toward reflection, agreement, or action, we don't impose our meanings. Nor would we expect a few models to give us a definitive answer for Future Church. But it is possible to take the meanings of these individually-built models and see three themes: embrace of uncertainty, love, and rescue.

  • For the WHAT challenge, there's a recognition and embrace of ambiguity, uncertainty, and diversity--it's okay to have an imperfect table, or a good pirate, or ALL the people including half a person. But there's also agreement on love--simply love, or as the Trinity--as the foundation.
  • As for the HOW challenge, that involves reaching out--with bridges or ropes--into the unknown and rescuing people.
  • Finally, in the models in the bottom row, there's both wonder and amazement, as well as an appreciation of the nuts and bolts of actual life. 

We've found that continued reflection on the rich details of the models and their stories allows people to perceive other, more subtle themes. At the same time these models were being built, attendees discussed the future, and came up with a list of ideas--those ideas are related to, but different than, embracing uncertainty, love, and rescue. LSP® doesn't replace that discussion, but enriches it.

Amazing Animals, Amazing Kids

Amazing Animals, Amazing Kids

We developed a Community Build Workshop to help the Fort Worth Zoo get the word out on their fundraising effort, A Wilder Vision (yes, check it out and give them $!). The folks at the Trailhead at Clearfork provided a wonderful space in which to do it, once a month, from June to November. There were days we had 220 kids (school's out!) and days we had less than 30 (a grey chilly November left some undaunted). We had lemonade, courtesy Clearfork, on the hot days, and Zoo swag and info, courtesy of the Zoo. The grownups had fun, and the kids sure seemed to have fun too. Here's what we asked kids to do (and yes, the faces are blurred, because internet/kid privacy and safety):

  • Build an AMAZING ANIMAL. We took a picture of the animal with an instant camera, gave the picture to the builder, and sent him/her off to...
  • Find a HABITAT for their animals, out of an array of pictures of habitats. Then we asked them to
  • Create a STORY about their animal in its home.

Yeah, it seems like it just involves throwing a bunch of LEGOs on a table and letting kids go, but in fact, it uses key elements of LEGO® Serious Play® (and any play): it's voluntary, it calls on the creative imagination to build things beyond the material world around us, it requires a little bit of critical thinking (where should my animal live?), and encourages storytelling. These are elements we use in other community builds for grownups--building their organization in the future, updating fairtytales, My Gift to the World (a Holiday Community Build), among others.

Seeing it all at once

Seeing it all at once

When we try to make sense of a complex situation in our heads--something at work, something in our lives--it's hard. There's this consideration here, but then there's that fact over there. We need to lay that information out somehow, but it can't be just a simple listing; we have to organize it and make sense of it as a whole.

Think about it: Even packing for a trip is easier if you can spread everything out on the bed to eyeball and then organize. For thinking about things, you can lay it out physically, in piles of papers and sticky notes and arrows. The writer John McPhee wrote about how he arranged his research for long articles or books out on an enormous table, so he could have a sense of the narrative flow, how things fit together, and where there might be holes. Describing how he developed the narrative structure for his article, Encounter with an Archdruid, involving dams in the West and the Sierra Club and geologists, among other actors, he wrote:

When I was through studying, separating, defining, and coding the whole body of notes, I had thirty-six three-by-five cards, each with two or three code words representing a component of the story. All I had to do was put them in order. What order? An essential part of my office furniture in those years was a standard sheet of plywood—thirty-two square feet—on two sawhorses. I strewed the cards face up on the plywood. The anchored segments would be easy to arrange, but the free-floating ones would make the piece. I didn’t stare at those cards for two weeks, but I kept an eye on them all afternoon. Finally, I found myself looking back and forth between two cards. One said “Alpinist.” The other said “Upset Rapid.” “Alpinist” could go anywhere. “Upset Rapid” had to be where it belonged in the journey on the river. I put the two cards side by side, “Upset Rapid” to the left. Gradually, the thirty-four other cards assembled around them until what had been strewn all over the plywood was now in neat rows.

So, spreading everything out isn't enough, you still have to make sense of it. Edward Tufte, the guru of the visual display of information, criticized PowerPoint for, among other things, how it spread out information. On the second page of his indictment, he said, "Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when the relevant information is shown adjacent in space within our eyespan.” A failure to provide this kind of information can have serious consequences: Tufte's discussion on pp. 38-52 of his book Visual Explanations of how a failure to display causally-related information contributed to the Challenger disaster is a classic. Putting relevant, causal relationships in a single eyespan helps us think. 

We design our workshops with this guideline in mind, so people can "see it all at once to make sense of it," whatever "it" might be--how their team works together, what their values are, what their plans and problems are. And every time, people are amazed at what their world looks like when they can see it laid out in one place.

Caring for Caregivers

Caring for Caregivers

We offer a caregivers workshop that focuses on helping caregivers recognize the scope of their task as well as reminding them of why they do it. It gives them a chance to take a breath, take a step back, and appreciate the big picture of the caregiving relationship. It's not therapy, it's not counseling, it's just for the caregivers.

Here's some highlights from one of our workshops. In this workshop, we had a group of caregivers who share the caregiving for one relative, Mother/Grandmother, who has been diagnosed with dementia.

BELOW RIGHT: "A happy memory" of Grandma: she liked "corny" jokes (the yellow and green bricks represent corn). Laughing affectionately, the other participants agreed with the accuracy of the model.

ABOVE RIGHT: "Your guilty pleasure?" A caregiver build several figures in a spa. As she explained it, it struck her that what the group was doing right that minute--getting together, laughing, talking about Mom/Grandma as well as their own lives, was something they all needed to do regularly. This started a discussion of how to make that happen on a monthly basis, and as the workshop ended, they made commitments about how they planned to care for themselves and each other as well as Grandma, going forward. .

TOP: "My support": One caregiver build a model of all the caregivers together, connected by constant texting and phone calls (the cords), while Grandma suspiciously looked in. We print pictures of people's models and this was the model that nearly everyone wanted, with one caregiver exclaiming that it was going to go on her fridge.

Afterwards, the caregivers said:

  • "It was nice to sit down together and discuss grandma and discuss what is going on with everyone. I liked using the Legos to represent what is going on in our lives."
  • "It was very interesting to find out more about each other and myself and I already see how this will help my grandma."
  • "Great family activity to reflect on the experiences of dealing with a loved one with dementia. It lets you understand that you can’t change your loved ones but you can change how you deal with them. Good to have a variety of family members."

If you know caregivers who might benefit from taking a breath and a step back, please contact us to set up a workshop.

 

"Hands off--it's MINE!"

"Hands off--it's MINE!"

In one recent workshop, I was talking to someone about her model, and as I gestured toward a brick, she exclaimed, in a joking but firm way, "Don't touch my model!" And I didn't. I've seen people reluctantly take apart one of their models so they could use the bricks for the next model. I've had people ask anxiously, once they've collaborated on a shared model, "Are you going to take that apart now?" Nope, I don't dismantle a shared model in front of the people who made it, because all of these things are manifestations of the OWNERSHIP people feel in their Lego® Serious Play® models.

We usually think of ownership in terms of the law, and sometimes in terms of claiming responsibility. But a sense of ownership derives from more than law: it encompasses intimate knowledge and identity. Intimate knowledge, in the sense of "I know every nook and cranny of my rental house even if my name isn't on the title" or "To open my front door lock, you have to jiggle the key just so." Identity, in the sense of "This car, which I haven't paid off yet, says a lot about who I am as a person." Think of all the things you don't legally own but you do "own" in these other senses. People who build with me don't legally own the bricks, but they do have intimate knowledge of the models they built, and they can identify with them strongly.

A sense of ownership is critical in moving on to implementing a solution--if people don't believe in it, if they aren't invested in it, they can find many ways, subtle and not-so-subtle, to resist its execution. So when I heard "Don't touch my model!" from that person, it was a good thing--it means she'll be invested in the solutions she builds.

What makes you so smart?

What makes you so smart?

I got interested in Lego® Serious Play® because I do social science research--focus groups, interviews, and the like. Over the years, I became frustrated by the quality of information--people said what they thought I wanted to hear, some people just didn't talk--they needed a better way to express themselves. So I triedLSP® on one of my projects, layperson views of experts.

Before getting to highlights, I'll digress briefly to explain why I bother to research this topic. Experts are everywhere in a complex technological world. But if you look at lay opinions of science, foreign relations--anything big and complicated--you'll see that many people distrust or dismiss expert opinions. Experts can provide important information, but a lot of people don't want to listen, which puts them, and us, at risk. Why won't they listen? What should experts do to help?  A lot of research into this problem concludes that laypersons lack information that would assure them that the expert knows what he/she's talking about--the fault is with the layperson, in other words. But I took an approach from risk communication studies that insists we have to begin with understanding the mental models people have about risks--or, in my case, experts.

Here's one of the things I found: laypersons care a LOT about how an expert handles safety. The models below represent part of mental models on safety and experts.

ABOVE LEFT: The expert shields and protects people, using the high vantage point to survey dangers. The wheels are for "getting around" to help and warn people, and the blue globes are the expert's understanding and knowledge. This model reflects fiduciary trust--the layperson expects the expert to put the layperson's well-being first.

ABOVE RIGHT: Here, the anti-expert entices a layperson into a situation of great danger (tiger and shark, high dive; the gravity is seen also in the use of the skull face). But the "expert" is the clown on the bike, who can distance himself from the mess he created. I've seen experts express concern for lay safety, but they may also dismiss the tigers and sharks the layperson sees. When an expert does this, she becomes that clown.

TOP: One person argued that a bad expert cannot hide their self-interest and their badness. The pirate in the model in the banner is the badness that is hidden, and the giveaway in the larger model is a single black brick. You have to look carefully at inconsistencies in an expert's public persona, our participant suggested.

Overall, I found that (1) laypersons have a pretty good idea of what makes an expert trustworthy, and it's not degrees from elite institutions, and (2) using LSP® yields rich data for a qualitative researcher. And, to end with the classic line, more research is needed.