As we head into the festive season and 2017, Nomat has been looking into fun and innovative ways to explore the problem space in our design and research projects and it has led us to add a new tool to our services, which is fun with a capital F. LEGO® Serious Play® is a technique that supports deep exploration of concepts, ideas and opportunities to solve problems and as an accredited facilitator we have been utilising the technique to engage and explore unique problems in the human centred design process.

A Christmas scene made out of LEGO

So, what is LEGO® Serious Play®?

LEGO® Serious Play® is a technique that improves group problem-solving. By utilising visual, auditory and kinaesthetic skills, it requires participants to answer questions through the building of models. I know, fun right? The technique serves as a shared language regardless of culture or level of seniority and is especially helpful for breaking down barriers in a workshop scenario with say both employees and executive leadership present. The methodology was developed by LEGO ® and professors Johan Roos and Bart Victor from IMD Business School in Switzerland, to support internal strategy development. It has evolved into an open-source technique that can be applied to a range of problems.

It is based on a number of principles, supported by academic research[*], including:

  • Play: an activity that is limited in time and space, structured by rules, conventions or agreements among the players, un-coerced by authority figures, and drawing on elements of fantasy and creative imagination.

  • Constructionism: a development theory that suggests effective learning occurs when people engage in building or creating.

  • Hand-mind connection: the connection between the hands and brain provides a means for free, creative and expressive thinking which is ideal for identifying new solutions to problems.

Can something fun really help my business?

During human-centred design workshops, we have been asking participants to create models that represent answers to questions about the problem space (e.g. Build a model of your biggest pain point at work). Participants individually build a model that is a metaphor for their answer to the questions. Models are then described by participants and shared with the group. The workshop facilitator asks probing questions to ensure the topic is fully explored. A series of models are built to explore the problem space and to identify solutions.

Apart from being fun, the great thing is that the LEGO Serious Play technique shifts the discussion to the model and away from the individual, which tends to lead to increased honesty. For example, some stakeholders or clients may shy away from providing accurate and honest feedback about a problem space. It may be that the topic is uncomfortable to discuss for some participants, but an accurate understanding of their experience is crucial to identifying effective solutions.

A model made of LEGO representing team building

Company Strategy – a Lego® Serious Play® Case study

Challenge: Our client was looking to redefine the strategy for their design team. A core challenge was to create a shared vision within their diverse team.

Approach: A workshop was facilitated utilising LEGO® Serious Play ® with the team, where they built a range of models to explore team success and define a set of team principles. Participants built individual models and created shared models representing a shared vision.

Outcome: The team has taken the findings from the workshop and formalised their team principles. We have been informed that the workshop has aided team harmony and led to a clearer understanding of their purpose.

We have found this technique is a great addition to workshops to provide deeper interrogation of the problem space. The greatest thing we’ve discovered using it has been the level of honesty and even surprise at the kinds of feedback/insights people provide. With a new year upon us, there is no better time to start playing, seriously.

Thanks to Michael Fearne for his excellent training and accreditation course.

LEGO ® Serious Play ® are registered trademarks of the LEGO Group.

[*] The initial papers based on the LEGO ® SERIOUS PLAY ® methodology was published by an independent research body called Imagination Lab Foundation. In addition to these papers, a number of relevant papers have been published recently.

Lissack, Michael and Roos, Johan. The Next Common Sense, Mastering Corporate Complexity through Coherence. Nicholas Brealing, 1999

Oliver, D. and Roos, J. "Constructing Organizational Identity". Imagination Lab Working Paper 2003- 10, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2003

Oliver, David and Roos. Striking a Balance: Complexity and Knowledge Landscapes. McGraw-Hill, 2000

Roos, Johan and Victor, Bart. "Towards a New Model of Strategy-Making as Serious Play". European Management Journal August 1999: 348-255

Roos, J., Victor, B., and Statler, M. "Playing Seriously With Strategy". Imagination Lab Working Paper 2003-2a, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2003

Said, R., Roos, J., and Statler, M. "Lego Speaks" Imagination Lab Working Paper 2002-7, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2002

Gauntlett, David. Creative Explorations, New approaches to identities and audiences, Routledge, 2007

Møller, Louise. Personal and Shared Experiental Concepts. Ph.D dissertation. Aalborg University, 2009

Kristiansen, Per and Rasmussen, Robert. "Building a better business using the LEGO Serious Play Method®". Wiley, 2014

About the author

About the author

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Author photo
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Chris Gray

Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer

Chris is a leader in the Human Centred Design field with a 18 year track record of improving customer interactions with some of Australia’s largest organisations. He is a strategic thinker who brings a calm and considered approach to tackling complex problems. An accomplished workshop facilitator, Chris excels at engaging with senior stakeholders and guiding projects to success. Chris has expertise in user research, service design and embedding Human Centred Design within organisations.

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